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Patrick Dodson’s appointment to the senate is a welcome development

A declaration of interest – and one of great pleasure.

I have known and admired Patrick Dodson for more than 30 years. I have talked, dined and socialized with him, and at times even done a little work on his behalf. And the news that he is becoming a member of parliament is both a surprise and a delight.

I regard him as a great representative of his people, a great Australian – a great human being. The worry, of course, is that he is a bit too great, especially for the somewhat stunted present parliament. Pessimists point particularly at Peter Garrett, the superstar promoted by Mark Latham, who succeeded as a flag-bearer for hope and idealism but failed as a politician.

However, Garrett never had the background needed to operate as a negotiator, a dealer in the achievable – a politician. Dodson has spent a lifetime working in notoriously fractious communities, showing leadership where possible but always scrupulously observing the limits of his authority.

He may have had disputes – notably with Noel Pearson, another outstanding Indigenous leader. But he has always stuck doggedly to his main objectives – the need for Indigenous dignity, advancement and reconciliation with the mainstream. He has always been accorded respect.

And his stature is unquestioned. There have been other Indigenous members of the federal parliament – not many, not enough, but some who have made their marks. The pioneer, the Jagara man Neville Bonner, served two terms in the senate before being unceremoniously dumped by his own Liberal Party. The Gumbaynggirr man Aden Ridgeway did a stint for the Democrats.

Now we have Ken Wyatt from the west, Nova Peris from the top end and Joanna Lundgren, a descendant of  Bonner, back in Queensland. Jacqui Lambie also claims Palawa heritage, but is seldom if ever identified as Indigenous.

All have made, and will continue to make, a contribution, and when the Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney joins the house of representatives later this year she will certainly kick things along; as a member of the NSW parliament since 2003 and a former deputy party leader, she will bring knowledge and political expertise that has, perhaps, been rather missing.

But Pat Dodson will be in a class of his own – acknowledged as a man of achievement in both worlds, black and white, christened the Father of Reconciliation, he will be the focus of hope and expectation, especially as the referendum on recognition looms.

There is still a chance that another considerable figure, Stan Grant, may take the plunge; Pearson has said he now regrets not doing so himself, but hey, there is still time. Dodson’s decision is something of a game-breaker and Bill Shorten deserves praise for pushing both him and Burney through an often awkward preselection system to give the ALP an opportunity to demonstrate that it is not all show and rhetoric – finally it has put its members where its mouth is.

And I have complete confidence that there will be no finer member, in symbolism, style and substance, than the proud Yawuru man Patrick Dodson. In these troubled times, let us rejoice.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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