SYDNEY - Former Olympian Nova Peris has become the first Aboriginal woman elected to Australia's national parliament, a welcome achievement for the centre-left Labor Party which lost power in the polls. Employment and workplace relations minister Bill Shorten, who is considered the frontrunner to become Labor's next leader, said despite the loss, there had been a range of good candidates elected to serve, including Peris.
"That's a good accomplishment," he said Sunday of her election to represent the Northern Territory in the Senate. "And it backs up our accomplishment in terms of jobs for indigenous Australians."
Olympian Peris won gold in field hockey at the 1996 Atlanta Games before switching to athletics to win gold in the 200m and 4x100m relay at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Her pre-selection ruffled feathers though, with one conservative Aboriginal politician saying Labor had been shamed into pre-selecting an indigenous candidate and compared the politically inexperienced Peris to a "maid" inside Labor's house.
Others were angered that her pre-selection bumped out Labor's long-serving Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin.
In her victory speech on Saturday, Darwin-born-and-raised Peris said that federal politics had the same cruelness of elite sport and admitted she had thought "long and hard" about whether to enter the arena.
"I thought: 'Can I do it?'" she told supporters on Saturday night. "Sometimes in life you've got to back yourself and I've got a bit of a history of backing myself with my sporting career."
Peris, who identifies with the Kiga People of the East Kimberley, Yawuru People of the West Kimberley (Broome) and Muran People of West Arnhem land in the Northern Territory, is set to be sworn in as a senator at the next sittings in Canberra.