PM Julia Gillard Handpicks Olympian Nova Peris as Labor’s Top NT Senate Candidate

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By Erik Pineda | January 22, 2013 6:53 PM EST

Prime Minister Julia Gillard personally picked Olympic gold medal winner Nova Peris as Labor's top Senate candidate for the Northern Territory, effectively sidestepping the ruling party's internal section process.

Calling her move as sort of a 'captain's pick', Ms Gillard said she was correcting a lingering problem that has been plaguing Labor at the national level - the lack of indigenous voice that jibes with the party principle.

"I am determined that at the 2013 election we change that," the prime minister was reported by The Australian as saying on Tuesday.

"As Prime Minister, as Labor leader, I have decided on this occasion to engage in a captain's pick, and I think that Nova particularly has a track record that shows she will make a great contribution in federal parliament," Ms Gillard said.

The Labor leader indicated too that she will be pulling the necessary plugs to ensure that Ms Peris will win the collective anointment of NT party leaders despite the fact that the decision will lead to the ditching of long-time NT Senator Trish Crossin.

Ms Crossin has been serving for 15 years but will have to step aside if NT Labor will support the PM's discretion, which Ms Gillard said she intends to follow through.

"I've asked the national executive to work with me in ensuring that Nova is eligible to stand for preselection and that she is preselected as our number one candidate for the Senate in the Northern Territory," said Ms Gillard.

Ms Crossin, however, scored what she described as unilateral manoeuvrings by Ms Gillard, saying in her statement that "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."

"It has been my long-held belief that preselection should always be a matter for NT Labor branch members to decide," the Labor senator insisted.

The development, however, was greeted with joy by former Labor Party president Walter Mundine, himself part of the Australian indigenous community.

Ms Gillard "righted a wrong," in endorsing Ms Peris, who if elected later this year will be first indigenous to serve in the Australian Parliament, Mr Mundine said.

It is likely, he added, that Labor will finally see an indigenous representation at the parliament after more than 100 years of delay.

"Finally it has happened. Many people may criticise, for me it is righting a wrong that has been there for so long," Mr Mundine told News Ltd on Tuesday.

Ms Peris, for her part, referred to her transition from an athlete, who brought pride and honour to Australia while competing in hockey and athletics, to a politician as an "amazing opportunity."

"I certainly understand the significance of this opportunity, and I am very honoured and humbled by this," the sports celebrity was quoted by Sky News as saying.

"I stand here before you all today not only as an Australian but also as a proud Aboriginal woman, proud of my heritage and culture," Ms Peris.

She pointed too to the Labor government's "stronger futures legislation which now hopefully I'll be a big part of that to ensure that voices of aboriginal Australia is actually heard here at a Federal level."

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