Apart from her exploits on the sporting field, not all that much is known about Nova Peris’ politics, other than she was not a member of the ALP when Prime Minister Julia Gillard made her the “captain’s pick” to bump veteran senator and Rudd supporter Trish Crossin from atop Labor’s ticket for the Senate in the Northern Territory.
So where does the former ATSIC “ambassador” and senator-to-be stand on issues like leadership – a valid question, given that she was an ornament to the organisation while its leaders were dogged by accusations ranging from financial shenanigans to violence?
Some indication of her willingness to stand up and be counted can be found in the following excerpt from Peris’ 2003 interview with Enough Rope’s Andrew Denton:
Andrew Denton: …whenever I hear of top-class athletes getting married, I just think, "You must have the most fantastic sex."
Nova Peris: (Laughs)
Denton: Well, you must go like hammers! I mean, it’s… You don’t have to answer that.
Now, I know your Aboriginality means a great deal to you, and you’re a treaty ambassador for ATSIC. What does that involve?
Peris: Um, just pretty much all… Well, actually, I became involved in it a couple of years ago, and the more…every day in life, it’s not like I sit down and read books. You know, I go out and I’m a grass-roots person. I sort of started down and I build my way up, and I think it’s really sad that we are the only country in the Commonwealth where there was a first nation’s people, and a treaty had never been signed with the first nation’s people. And when you look at Canada, where there’s over 350 treaties, in the USA, there’s over 250 treaties there with its indigenous peoples, um, you know, Australia is going towards, in terms of more people are aware of the injustices in the past, they’re walking over bridges for reconciliation… But, um, being a treaty ambassador, it’s creating awareness.
Denton: So you travel around and you speak to people about the issues?
Peris: Yeah, I speak to mainly non-indigenous people.
Denton: And are people receptive?
Peris: Very receptive. Like, I speak to, um…on my way to travel, um, air hostesses. They’re like, "What are you doing?" sort of thing. And then when you tell them about certain issues, they’re, like, quite embarrassed about treatment of Aboriginals over, you know, the last couple of hundred years and all the injustices.
Denton: As a treaty ambassador for ATSIC, is that difficult? Because at the moment with the leadership, you’ve got Deputy Chair Sugar Robinson, who’s under federal investigation — his five companies are about to be audited.
You’ve got Geoff Clark, who’s the chairman, who on Friday was just charges with riotous behaviour in a pub brawl with the police. And the magistrate said, you know, "Mr Clark, if your behaviour is an indication, there’s a long way to go to reconciliation."
Is it hard to be an ambassador with people like that as your leadership?
Peris: Well, to be honest with you, at the end of the day, I wake up and I know who I am and the direction that I want to go in life, and I never lose focus of what’s true to me, and the true thing to me is that fighting for ongoing rights in this country for indigenous people… Um, you know, I can’t speak for, you know, Geoff or Sugar because of their behaviour or their antics in the public eye. They’re responsible for their own actions.
Denton: Do you support that leadership?
Peris: Well, I mean, if you’re a leader, um, like me being an ambassador, you’ve got to know where you stand, and that’s a responsibility you have to take. So, where I stand, it’s just me trying to create awareness of… you know, and fighting when it comes to indigenous rights. You know, the Australian public don’t lose 200 years, but they gain 40,000 years of true history. And in terms of, you know, Rabbit Proof Fence, when I was overseas just speaking to English people, that just heartened people in the world. They’re like, "Well, we never knew Australia was like that." And to be honest with you, Australia has a great hidden shame, you know? And it needs to be said in terms of our Constitution. You know, that’s a shame. It was 1901 when that was written up and it doesn’t even shape where our country is at the moment, you know?
Denton: Nova, really, on behalf of your nanna, your very presence creates awareness. Thank you for coming tonight.
Would Peris’ reluctance to be drawn on the moral and ethical fitness of her ATSIC leaders have anything to do with Gillard’s decision to install her in the Senate?
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. His greatuncle and greataunt, dead drunk most days by noon, lost their children to welfare authorities, but that intervention has not warranted an apology because, well, the family was white.