More leaders moving forward in all walks of life is the way to go.
NSW Minister for Community Services Linda Burney thinks an Aboriginal Prime Minister is still a long way into the future. An Aboriginal President of an Australian republic though is another matter.
“I think we will have a republic in the next decade,” says Linda, one of Australia’s few Aboriginal Members of Parliament.
“It seems to me it would be incredibly symbolic if the first President was an Aboriginal person and there are so many people that could fill the role.
“I think the role of President in an Australian Republic is to provide leadership from a moral and social perspective. It’s about giving everyone a sense of our entire history and people viewing their own history that allows us to understand where we come from, so we can move forward together.
“Currently there are no Aboriginal people in Federal Parliament, so it’s fair to say it is a long way off until we have an Aboriginal Prime Minister. Then again Barack Obama has only been in politics for eight years and they say a week is a long time in politics.”
Linda recalls the night before the US Presidential election she found it very difficult to sleep, so anxious was she to see an Obama victory.
“I think there was this sense of relief. African Americans particularly had held their breath and then there was this large collective exhaling right around the world.
“It was incredibly joyous, I think that’s the best way to describe it. It is clearly inspirational. I think it gives me a bit of faith again in people and in America.”
As an Aboriginal woman with a lifelong commitment to all areas of social justice, Linda is very proud of her elected role as the Member for Canterbury, a large multi-cultural area of Sydney. She also believes that an Aboriginal Prime Minister is more likely to be a woman rather than a man.
“If you look across the political system, there are more Aboriginal women politicians than men. I think it would be amazing if it was a woman.
“But I also have to say you don’t get elected into a position because of your Aboriginality. It’s because you are a good representative of all people.
“If Aboriginal people think for one minute it is your Aboriginality that gets you across the line they are mistaken. It’s about how you reflect the views of everyone. That happens to be something we do brilliantly.
“I made it very clear when I entered politics that I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as only being involved in Aboriginal issues. That’s a nonsense. I have a family, a home, I have health insurance, I am interested in the environment, so my perspectives feed into many areas,” says Linda.
Warren Mundine agrees that any leader must prepared to listen to others in the community.
“In politics it’s always about being the right person – you’ve got to be prepared to listen to what’s happening to the community around Australia and take those aspirations and turn them into policies and ideas that people can trust you to deliver.
“In a democratic system you’ve got to deliver policies that work for everyone. Barack Obama being elected was like an anti-climax for me because it was natural for him to be elected because he was the best candidate. It didn’t matter if he was black or white. He simply spoke the language and the politics of the time and at this point in history we need a bloke like that to lead us.”
Warren believes there are already plenty of potential Indigenous leaders just waiting in the wings to step up to the mark.
“I’ve met a lot of Aboriginal people around the country who could be sitting in parliament today quite easily – they’re talented, sensible and very good people.”
He also believes that whoever is the first Indigenous Prime Minister will not have gotten there alone.
“We’ve got to remember where we’ve come from,” says Warren. “I didn’t get to my position by myself, other people before me did the hard yards and opened the door for me. They helped Warren Mundine be who he is today. In fact, we should erect memorials around the countryside to all those people who have been making a difference for the last 200 years or even the last 40,000 years.”
Aden Ridgeway believes, based on the U.S. model, more Aboriginal leaders need to make their way into mainstream Australian roles before an Indigenous Australian can lead the country.
“When you ask a simple question like how many Aboriginals are sitting on the boards of the top 100 companies in this country the answer is probably none. We’ve made inroads in other areas like the legal system, where we have lawyers and magistrates and judges, but the fact that there have only been two Indigenous people elected to Federal Parliament including myself is an indication of how far we have to go,” says Aden.
Aden believes that such a nation leader will require charisma and broad appeal, both qualities of US elect President Obama.
“I think they’ve got to be charismatic and able to convince people of all political walks of life to follow them because it’s an ingrained part of the Australian psyche that Australians have a negative view of Indigenous Australians and that’s an enormous hurdle.
“It means that your competence and professionalism has to be ten times better than anyone else in that position and you also have to have a very worldly view of how you see Australia. You have to be a blackfella and a mate at the same time, talk about cricket and still shake a leg in the sand,” says Aden.
“The election of Obama was an absolutely wonderful moment. The end result is that we all now dream these things are possible, they are real and people like him and us can make a difference.
“We’ve now got a better chance of electing people in all walks of life including the Prime Minister. I would like to see a time when we become a republic and get our first black president.”