I’ve just come back from on Country, having spent a couple of weeks reflecting, reconnecting with family and centering myself after a shocker end to a shocker year. I grew up being told that when everything else seemed lost, I’d always have Community and I’d always have Country. But in a pandemic, we’re robbed of both of those things and it’s hit me really hard. I know I’m not the only one – it’s hit all of us in ways we could never have imagined.
I wanted to reach out because I owe you, as Greens members, supporters and voters, an explanation and an apology for my behaviour towards the end of last year. Being a Parliamentarian is an enormous privilege and, as you can imagine, often also an enormous weight to carry. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to do my best to represent you, the people of Victoria and also First Nations people all over the country. Every day I am humbled by your allyship and support; I would not be here without you and I could not do this job without you.
I want to take this opportunity to share with you some context for my approach to the role I am in. As a Blak woman, every day I walk through the doors of this country’s Parliament – an institution that has caused and continues to cause so much harm to my people – I feel like I’m putting on my battle armour.
I head into that place as a real person with real baggage. You know this because those stories have been dredged up over the years by my political opponents. I believe those personal experiences have made me stronger and a better representative. But I also carry with me years of intergenerational trauma. That trauma is heavy.
To me, parliament is more than just a contest of ideas. I am very aware that lives and livelihoods are at stake as a direct result of the decisions taken – or in many cases not taken – in that place. Too many people in there, particularly those in government right now, don’t act as if that is the case. There is no sense of urgency, no recognition of the daily devastation that takes place in the real world outside those walls.
But I don’t have the luxury of being able to turn my head from injustice. My people are living it every day. So, when I walk through those doors, I am angry. Most of the time that sense of anger gives me strength. It drives me to get up and face my workplace, even when slurs and derogatory comments are daily practice. But after a while, it grinds you down.
In that last week of parliamentary sitting, I was in the Senate chamber when I found out that another two Blak women had been killed in police custody. And honestly, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In that moment, I felt the weight of it all – centuries of colonisation, dispossession and trauma. The systematic eradication of my people, still happening to this day. And I was standing in the place that held the power to do something about it, and nobody seemed to care. I just lost it.
I am in no way making excuses for my actions. I became part of the problem. The comment I made was an offhand remark about the way the senator was sitting, not, as it was characterised, a comment about the senator’s family or an attempt to infer any wrongdoing. But really, no context makes it all right. It was unnecessary and a momentary lapse in judgement. I have apologised in Parliament and unreservedly to the senator I directed my comments towards and I’ll be reaching out again when we return. But I also want to apologise to you for derailing what we were trying to achieve in that last week of Parliament.
I want you to know that I have learned from this; it’s reminded me who I am and, importantly, who I am not.
I must be part of the solution in the fight to change the culture in Parliament House. We must leave it a safer place for those who follow in our footsteps. The only way we’ll do that is if we throw the doors wider for women, First Nations people and people with diverse life perspectives and experiences. That’s what I’m recommitting to here and now: holding that door open for change.
I also want to take this opportunity to let you know that I won’t be beaten down. Not for a mistake and certainly not by a thousand cuts in Parliament. I will not bend and break under the pressures of public life or under a system that is designed to shut out voices like mine. What we’re trying to achieve together is too important.
So as I move forward, I promise you that I will remain angry; at the institution, at the system, at the parties that maintain the status quo to the detriment of millions of people. But I will channel that rage and passion in ways that help drive our movement forward, with a laser focus on kicking out this incompetent, corrupt, elitist government.
The election will be called within months. We have an opportunity to shift the balance of power from the privileged few to those who have historically had none. We’re going to need all of us to do it, but it's a crucial first step in tackling the issues we’re all fighting for; a Treaty, economic and social justice, reversing the climate crisis and the destruction of Country.
I hope I have your support. Let’s do this.
Hero image: Julian Meehan.