Aboriginal woman makes Australian political history

Former teacher Linda Burney, 59, answering a question during a press conference in Sydney on July 3, 2016.
Former teacher Linda Burney, 59, answering a question during a press conference in Sydney on July 3, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - A former teacher has made political history by becoming the first indigenous woman elected to Australia's parliamentary lower house, winning a seat for the centre-left Labor party after national polls.

Linda Burney, 59, has been a trailblazer, having been the first female Aboriginal to enter the New South Wales state parliament in 2003.

She joins the first Aboriginal MP Ken Wyatt of the conservative Liberal Party, who was elected in 2010, and follows in the footsteps of former senator and Olympian Nova Peris, who was the first indigenous woman in the upper house.

"I think for Australia it's a really important moment," Burney told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Sunday after winning the Sydney seat of Barton.

"Being elected as the first indigenous woman into the House of Representatives is a moment for this country... this was not lost on the people of Barton. They, and we, have made history together last night."


Ms Burney arriving at the Sydney press conference with her campaign team. PHOTO: EPA

The multicultural seat of Barton had previously been in Labor hands for three decades before the Liberals picked up the electorate three years ago.

 
 

But a boundary distribution hurt incumbent Nickolas Varvaris' chances to retain his seat, and Burney, who was also a former state deputy opposition leader, made the successful transition to federal politics.

"It's starting to dawn on me the importance of this role," she told local newspaper the Canterbury-Bankstown Express.

"I've had messages (of congratulations) from people living in Germany, Israel, friends in America and other friends of mine have had messages to pass on to me from Switzerland and London. It's been lovely."

Burney was the first Aborigine to gain a Diploma of Teaching at Charles Sturt University and has served on the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and with international United Nations working groups.

Aborigines are the most disadvantaged Australians, suffering disproportionate levels of disease, imprisonment and social problems as well as significantly lower education, employment and life expectancy.