Peris, the first Indigenous Australian athlete to win a gold medal, has been asked to join the Labour party and run as a candidate for the Northern Territory Senate, at elections to be held later this year.
If elected, the 41-year-old mother of three and grandmother will become the nation’s first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the Australian parliament.
“I believe Nova will make a great contribution in the Federal Parliament for the Labor Party, for the Northern Territory and for the nation,” Ms Gillard said at yesterday’s press conference.
“I believe Nova’s selection is a matter of national significance, as well as a matter of significance for the Northern Territory,” she added.
An estimated 64,000 people make up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of the Northern Territory – that’s 30 per cent of the total population.
Ms Peris was visibly moved, thanking the Prime Minster for the support and the opportunity to pursue a career in politics – a career she had been approached for many year ago, but declined to take care of her young children.
“I certainly understand the significance of this opportunity and I’m very honoured and humbled,” Peris told the media as she wiped away tears.
“I stand here today not only as an Australian, but as a proud Aboriginal woman – proud of my heritage and culture,” she said, adding that she was also “a proud Territorian – who’s extremely passionate about health, education and our youth.”
The former Young Australian of the Year, who also runs an academy for girls in Darwin, has already indicated a number of policy areas that are of interest to her, including education, health and better access to services for remote communities in the territory.
The news has been welcomed by many prominent indigenous Australians, including former labour politician and national president Warren Mundine, as well as fellow indigenous Olympian Cathy Freeman, who took to social media to express her delight at the news: “Nova Peris – what a great ambassador she would be for all Australians, Indigenous people, women and NT” she tweeted.
But not everyone is happy about the decision. Perris’s endorsement means the incumbent senator, Trish Crossin, who has held the position for almost 15 years, will not be re-elected.
“When she goes at the next election, she will go with my thanks,” Ms Gillard said of Senator Crossin.
“She is a fiercely proud Territorian and she’s spent a lot of time making sure that this Parliament never forgets the views and perspectives of the Northern Territory as we make policies and plans,” she added.
The decision has garnered internal criticism from Labour party members who see the move as undermining Northern Territory politics, after the Prime Minister failed to consult party members in the region about her decision.
However, the opposition has praised the Prime Minister’s decision, with leader Tony Abbot giving his support to the increase in indigenous representatives in parliament during a radio interview:
“It’s terrific that Labor might finally be getting its first Aboriginal representative in the Federal Parliament, so I’m all in favour of that,” Mr Abbot said.
Do you agree with the Prime Minister’s decision to endorse Nova Peris? Will the former Olympian make a valuable contribution to Australian politics? Share your thoughts on this issue in our comments section below, or join the discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages.