Nova Peris has revealed the extent of the racial abuse she received during her political career, and suggested that “unfinished business” may one day inspire a return to Parliament.
- Nova Peris told Q+A she left Parliament because she was forced to “compromise” her Aboriginal identity
- She said Indigenous Australians are “attacked” for speaking out about the “violent history” of the country
- Tarang Chawla said a “fundamental shift in what it means to be a man” is needed to combat domestic violence
Joining Tarang Chawla, Marlee Silva and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann on a Q+A panel to explore many facets of the Australian identity, including toxic masculinity, domestic violence, racism and Indigenous recognition, Ms Peris spoke of receiving death threats during her three-year term in the Senate.
Ms Peris became the first female Indigenous Australian to be elected to Federal Parliament in 2013, and was a champion for Indigenous issues and rights — something she said made her a target for racist trolls.
“Because I started to speak out about certain things, if not every day then every second day I would just be attacked by racist trolls,” Ms Peris said.
“Mail was sent, phone calls [saying] ‘Get back in your box, you black bitch’.
“I had death threats. The AFP were tracking down mail that was sent to me. This is what I had to endure.”
Ms Peris said she was worn down by the abuse, and left Parliament not only because her “family needed [her]”, but because she was being forced to compromise her own Indigenous identity — though she did leave the door open for a return to politics.
“I sort of felt there were elements of me and what I believed in that were starting to be compromised, and I couldn’t compromise who I was as an Aboriginal person,” she said.
“I still have to go back to country. Irrespective of whether I was a politician, I’m first and foremost an Aboriginal person.
“I have inherent responsibilities to be a voice because my mum didn’t have a voice, my grandparents. No-one had a voice.
“But my children needed me the most. Not to say I wouldn’t go back one day. I feel there’s unfinished business.”
‘People fear when an Aboriginal person speaks out’
When questioned about the implications of speaking about race on a national stage, be it in Parliament or on television, Ms Peris was forthright.
“People fear when an Aboriginal person speaks out,” she said.
How does the Australian education system impact the Australian identity? #QandA
“When you’re an Aboriginal person in this country and speak out and start calling racism out, you get attacked, because for so long this country has had this thought process.
“Racism is about inferior races. White is up here. Black is down there. That’s how this country has been built.
“1993 was when the Eddie Mabo High Court decision was made. It knocked out the notion of terra nullius.
“They had inherited mentally that the country belonged to ‘no man’. So it meant our lives as Aboriginal people, we were nothing.
“And so when people often talk about the history of this country, the history of this country is violent. There’s been the attempted genocide. There’s been the massacres. There’s been the poisoning. There’s been the rapes. There’s been so much, and it’s horrible.
“The truth just gets to people and they don’t want to have a bar of it. But us as Aboriginal people, we inherit that every day.”
But Ms Peris said she still had a “glass half full” attitude and believed Australians could work towards a more unified future.
“In order to go forward, we can’t repeat the wrongs of the past, and that goes with how we care for country and sustain it. We need to put practical things into place to ensure we never go back there,” she said.
“My great-grandfather said we breathe the same air and all bleed one red blood.
“I know how much this country can gel together. It’s about respecting our indifferences and treating people equally.”
Hannah Clarke murder sparks re-think of male attitudes
A number of audience members shared harrowing stories of domestic violence in the wake of the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her estranged husband.
Grace Donato told the story of her 20-year-old daughter Adriana’s murder by an ex-boyfriend, while Geraldine Bilston shared an audio clip of a triple-0 call made while her abusive partner was attempting to assault her.
Adriana Donato was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2012. Her mum would like to know how to change the culture amongst men who think “if I can’t have her, nobody else can”? #QandA
Anti-violence campaigner Tarang Chawla, whose younger sister was murdered by her partner five years ago, spoke of the responsibility men in Australia have to change their own behaviours and wider societal attitudes.
“This is not a problem of women. This is not a problem that was Adriana’s problem. It became the sad ending of her life because of another man’s actions,” Mr Chawla said.
“And I think that for too long now we’ve been at a stage where we have been reluctant in Australia to have that conversation. We’ve been reluctant to have the conversation that puts the blame squarely on the perpetrator.
“We need a fundamental shift in what it means to be a man in Australia. And rather than demonising men, I look at it as an opportunity for us as a nation to say, ‘Who are we and what do we stand for?’
“That’s where all men have a responsibility to the attitudes that for too long now have seen women treated as property”
Marlee Silva, writer and host of the podcast Tiddas 4 Tiddas, which aims to promote and celebrate the achievements of young Indigenous women, said in her experience a toxic “bro culture” was alive and well among young people.
“Everyone laughs it off in high school,” Ms Silva said.
Family violence support services:
- 1800 Respect national helpline 1800 737 732
- Women’s Crisis Line 1800 811 811
- Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491
- Lifeline (24 hour crisis line) 131 114
- Relationships Australia 1300 364 277
“But if I try and talk about women’s issues with men in particular, men my age, they tend to still think that feminism is a very dirty word and it’s not something for them to care about either.”
Radio host and comedian Lehmann said he had hoped setting a good example to his son would help better prepare future generations.
“For me personally it’s about being a good example to my son, like my dad was to me, and teaching him everyone should be treated equally,” he said.
“He should show compassion and empathy, and [know] that violence is never, ever the answer.
“When it comes to the question of what we can do now and how we can help from my perspective, it’s about calling out violent language. It’s about calling out violent behaviour.
‘It’s about never accepting anyone’s theory that it’s anyone’s fault other than the perpetrator.”