THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has anointed the athlete and Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris as Labor's first indigenous federal parliamentarian after demanding the party appoint her as its new Senate candidate for the Northern Territory.
Despite weeks of Labor Party negotiations with Ms Peris, 41, the Prime Minister only told Senator Trish Crossin - a Kevin Rudd supporter - that she was being pushed out in favour of Ms Peris on Monday night, prompting angry denunciations yesterday from the veteran Labor senator.
Peris running again... for the Senate
Julia Gillard has endorsed Olympic gold medalist Nova Peris to top Labor's Northern Territory Senate ticket, bypassing normal pre-selection processes.
Appearing with her star candidate, who is not yet a Labor Party member, Ms Gillard told a news conference she had made a ''captain's pick''. She brushed off the treatment of Senator Crossin. ''I've made a decision and that's it'' - although she said she did not intend to routinely intervene in party processes.
At the PM's request, the ALP national executive on Wednesday is set to override the normal preselection procedure to embrace Ms Peris, who is assured of winning the seat at this year's election.
Ms Gillard said she had been ''very troubled'' that federal Labor had never been able to count among its number an indigenous Australian.
''I am determined that at the 2013 election we change that,'' she said. Ms Peris's selection was ''a matter of national significance, as well as a matter of significance for the Northern Territory''. It was the first time Labor had put forward an indigenous candidate in a winnable position in a federal seat. The Liberals have an indigenous member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt.
There has never been an indigenous female federal MP. One factor in the move is to try to hold up Labor's vote in Warren Snowdon's marginal seat of Lingiari.
Senator Crossin said: ''This action has been taken without consultation or negotiation with the NT branch of the ALP or my input as the long-serving federal Labor senator for the Northern Territory.''
A visibly nervous and emotional Ms Peris told the news conference: ''I stand here before you all today not only as an Australian but as proud Aboriginal woman, proud of my heritage and culture''. She was ''a proud Territorian who is extremely passionate about health, education and our youth. I understand the significance and enormity of the challenges that I face and I'm the first person to … say I don't know everything. I'm here to learn.''
As part of the Australian hockey team, Ms Peris in 1996 became the first Aboriginal to win an Olympic gold medal. After switching to athletics she won gold at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
She said she had been approached first seven or eight years ago to stand for Parliament. ''I wasn't ready then,'' she said. She had always been a Labor voter.
Asked whether she supported the federal intervention in the NT, Ms Peris said that ''something needed to be done'' but the way it was done was wrong.
The government now had its ''stronger futures'' legislation, in which she hoped to play a big part and ''ensure that these new programs are implemented the correct way''.
The Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine - who was passed over for the Senate in favour of Bob Carr - said Ms Gillard should be congratulated for correcting a wrong within the Labor Party.