Western Australia’s first female Aboriginal Senator Dorinda Cox made her maiden speech to Federal Parliament on Tuesday evening, taking the opportunity to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered First Nations women.
The Noongar/Yamajti woman began her speech in language and acknowledged her family and close friends who watched from WA via live-stream due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The “fifth strong Greens woman from the west”, Ms Cox paid her respect to the First Nations representatives she now shares the Parliament with.
“It’s a humbled privilege to join an esteemed group of First Nations political leaders past and present who have paved the way for us to represent First Peoples in this country, and their issues in these politic forums,” she said.
The Senator, who’s journey was shaped by “opportunities, hard work and challenges” reflected on former PM Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech.
“It was at that moment I felt he understood the impact of mine and my family’s story. One that is shared across many families and communities etched in our past but also in our present,” she said.
“As I reflected recently this was a significant moment that sparked my interest in politics … It is my dream to re-create this moment and others like it for many more Australian First Nations girls and boys to spark their passion for participation in our political systems.
“I want every young person in this country to believe that regardless of your background, one day you could be standing her providing your first speech too and that you have the right to belong in this system that should represent you and your issues.”
Senator Cox took her maiden speech as an opportunity shine a light on First Nations issues, including cultural heritage, rates of homelessness, deaths in custody and family violence.
“Under the cloak of economic development, we make laws and decisions in this country that destroy the fabric of social and cultural rights of First Peoples,” she said.
“While at the same time asking them to extend a hand to reconcile a past, one that we are unable to state in modern day in Australia.”
Ms Cox referenced her own grandparents, who had to apply for citizenship to have “access to rations to feed their children in the 1950s”.
“Like many others I continue through my resilience and resistance to a system which fails to see the intersectional issues needed for me, not just to survive but to thrive. One by one, I have overcome them,” she said.
“But for some of my fellow Australians, this is not the case – evident through the unacceptable deaths across the justice system that sees First Nations people particularly women dying in preventable circumstances.”
As a “staunch Blak feminist, a single mother of two daughters” and a “survivor and campaigner of family violence discrimination” Ms Cox spoke to the Parliament about the issues facing First Nations women.
“We have been tackling this issue all wrong and, in a vacuum, constantly expecting women to be fixing this issue. And most of all, we’ve not made it safe for women to call out harassment and violence,” she said.
“In this place, it is our place to provide that safety as the first part of that solution.”
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Ms Cox acknowledged the realities that First Nations women and girls are “35 times more likely to experience violence and ten times more likely to experience death because of family violence”.
“This is why I will campaign for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered First Nations Australia women – similar to the one of our first nations Canadian brothers and sisters from across the pacific,” she said.
“The red and handprint that I wore on my mask yesterday into the chamber and today that I told up is a symbol of the bloodied hand silencing the voices of those stories.
“This work must be a propriety in the already committed first National plan for violence against First Nations women.”
A smoking ceremony took place at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra before Senator Cox began her speech.
By Rachael Knowles