WESTERN AUSTRALIA: The first Aboriginal woman elected to an Australian parliament will resign from politics, but her Labor colleagues say she is not quitting because of a campaign against her.
West Australian Opposition Leader Eric Ripper on Wednesday announced Carol Martin would not contest the 2013 state election as she wanted to spend more time with her family.
Ms Martin became the country’s first Indigenous female MP when she was elected to the seat Kimberley in 2001.
Last week Ms Martin was one of many Aboriginal leaders labelled a “toxic coconut” for her support of Woodside Petroleum’s planned $30 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) hub near Broome.
She said it was one of the worst racial slurs ever directed towards her.
But Labor colleague Tom Stephens, who represents the neighbouring seat of Pilbara, said he had spoken with Ms Martin and the racial attacks were not the motivation behind her decision.
“The issues associated with these most recent events are not the sort of issues that loom large on Carol’s landscape,” Mr Stephens said.
“She and I, we’re used to the madness that sometimes unleashes itself in our communities. This is not a consequence of this isolated attack that was made on Carol and in fact people on all sides of the debate.”
Mr Ripper paid tribute to Ms Martin as an outstanding and passionate advocate “for bettering the lives of people in the Kimberley” and secured more than $150 million of funding for upgrades to schools, hospitals and infrastructure in her electorate.
“On a personal note I have valued Carol’s support and advice on matters affecting her community and more broadly across the state,” he said.
WA Premier Colin Barnett, who labelled the racial slurs as disgusting, said Ms Martin “showed real courage” in standing up for the gas project.
“She probably shared the view of the government that the development of an LNG project in the Kimberley … provides the best long-term opportunity for real jobs, real employment, real opportunities for Aboriginal people,” he told reporters.
“She probably put her party politics to one side and stood up for Aboriginal people.”
Ms Martin, who is aligned to Labor’s left faction, was under pressure to retain the seat against The Nationals, whose Royalties for Regions program has brought increased funding for the Kimberley.
In her maiden speech Ms Martin, whose Noongar people are the traditional owners of WA’s southwest, told how she was removed from her family in 1969 at the age of 12 and placed into foster care.
At 18 she fled back to Broome to be with her mother and siblings.
Prior to entering politics Ms Martin worked as a social worker in the Kimberley and witnessed first hand the impact of the removal of Aboriginal children.
Ms Martin told parliament she had “worked tirelessly to return” children of the stolen generation to their parents.
“Sometimes I could help, other times my heart went out to them. For many of them their children are still lost.”