To change Parliament, we have to change those within it.
On 18 October 2021 Dorinda Cox was sworn into Federal Parliament and made history as the First Aboriginal woman to represent Western Australia in the Senate.
Dorinda Cox is a Yamatji-Noongar woman with a strong record of working for social justice in her community; locally, globally and nationally. Dorinda is the mother of two daughters and small business owner with over 20 years’ experience working in government and non-government sectors, She has has made significant contributions to policy and advocacy in the areas of domestic violence, child protection and Aboriginal Justice.
The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind so I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself.
I was born on Kanyeang country in Kojonup. My family moved to Perth when I was a baby. I grew up in Hamilton Hill and attended East Hamilton Hill Primary and South Fremantle Senior High School.
At the age of 17, on a guided tour of the new Parliament House, I sat in the House of Representatives when Paul Keating was prime minister. I sat in a chair outside the door of the chamber, and even as a teenager, I wanted to remember that moment.
I wanted to capture the moment of what was possible for First Nations people in the Parliament. All around us, white people were talking about me and my community. Paul Keating’s Redfern speech acknowledged the stolen generation, which for me is the intergenerational trauma I carry going back five generations of children being removed from their families under a cruel government policy.
So, sitting on that chair, I made a choice to leave school to become a police cadet. I wanted to make a choice to embark on a career that would make change from within the system that wasn’t working for First Nations people. It was the main driver to go into police work. I wanted to understand, and work within that system, to make it work for my people.
I felt motivated and determined and I was excited at the prospect that I could do this. I felt inspired by Paul Keating’s Redfern speech that reached my heart about my family and the possibility of change. It was an epiphany and it became my reason for why I was here.
When I told my grandmother that I was joining the police, the first thing she said to me was, ‘Does that mean you are going to take children from their parents?’ My grandmother had seven of her children taken away by the police. I said no, I wouldn’t, but little did I know that police would still take children away until this day.
There is a systemic failure of the system that First Nations women are more likely to have their children removed. It now means that our women don’t want to have their babies in hospitals. I still carry a lot of my grandmother’s trauma to this day, who was a direct casualty of the government policy of the day. She was a strong, beautiful woman and I was close to her before she died.
After joining the police as a cadet at age 17, I worked as an Aboriginal Police Liaison Officer for the WA Police in both Perth and Kalgoorlie, working in the frontline and specialising in family violence and sexual assault.
During my policing career, I was disturbed to see the same people again and again with the same problems, and the revolving door that existed in the systems that perpetuated hopelessness and helplessness for people and communities.
After leaving the police force, I worked in a number of government and non-government sectors at both the local, state and national levels. I was an Australian government representative on several delegations on gender equality at the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women in New York, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation in Peru, and also UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Thailand.
I had the privilege of chairing the National Sexual Assault Services Board after participating in the first National Action Plan for Violence against Women and Children under the Rudd Government, where I was able to recommend key law reform and policy initiatives, that provided a reference point for the National Women’s Safety Summit and the development of the Second National Action Plan.
Increasingly frustrated with the lack of government action, I started my own business, Inspire Change Consulting Group.
I am so proud to be part of the Australian Greens party and to represent them, my community and my family.
As a 17 year old, I believed that I could change the system from within, I’m still working on that and I won’t give up until it happens.
Dorinda Cox is the Greens Senator for Western Australia
Twitter @dorinda_cox · Instagram @DorindaForSenate · Facebook
Article first published in Greens Magazine, September 2021