Prime Minister Julia Gillard has invited Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris to stand as a Senate candidate for Labor in the federal election, saying she had engaged in a ‘‘captain’s pick’’ to bring Ms Peris to parliament.
Ms Peris, who was the first indigenous Australian to win a gold medal (in hockey) and also represented Australia in athletics, will campaign for the Northern Territory seat currently held by Labor's Trish Crossin.
In a statement released shortly after Ms Gillard's announcement, Senator Crossin said she was only told of the move to install Ms Peris as a Senate candidate last night.
If Ms Peris is successful, she will be the first indigenous woman to sit in the federal parliament. She would also be the first indigenous MP for federal Labor.
Ms Gillard said that while she was ‘‘very proud’’ of Labor’s work for indigenous Australians since the time of Gough Whitlam, she was ‘‘troubled’’ that Labor had never been able to ‘‘count amongst our number an indigenous Australian’’.
The Prime Minister described Ms Peris as a ‘‘household name’’ and talked of her grit and determination on and off the sporting field.
‘‘I believe Nova will make a great contribution in the federal parliament,’’ Ms Gillard said.
'Honoured and humbled'
An emotional Ms Peris thanked Ms Gillard for the ‘‘amazing opportunity’’.
‘‘I stand here before you all today not only as an Australian but as a proud Aboriginal woman . . . I certainly understand the significance of this opportunity and I am very honoured and humbled.’’
Ms Peris - who says she has always been a Labor voter - is not a member of the Labor Party.
Ms Gillard said the party's national executive would ''resolve'' that issue.
''I'm not going to make it routine for me to intervene in party processes,'' Ms Gillard said. ''But I think there is a national significance here.''
Ms Gillard said that she would let Senator Crossin make her own comments, but suggested that she had asked the senator - who has been in federal parliament for 15 years - to stand down.
''Of course there are only so many positions and that makes tough choices, inevitably tough choices. Choices need to be made about the Labor team and about the people that we put forward,'' Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.
''I have made a decision and that is it.''
I wasn't consulted: Crossin
A senator since 1998, Senator Crossin was first woman elected to federal parliament from the NT.
In a statement released shortly after Ms Gillard's announcement, Senator Crossin said she was not consulted about the plan.
Senator Crossin said she was only made aware of the move to install Ms Peris as a Senate candidate last night.
"On Monday evening I was told by the Prime Minister of her intention to seek to endorse Nova Peris OAM as a candidate for the Senate in the Northern Territory from the national executive of the Australian Labor Party," the statement 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."
Senator Crossin said she had long-believed that preselection should be a matter for the branch.
"As an advocate and federal representative for the NT, I will not be making further comment until I have spoken with and consulted NT branch members and my colleagues."