Patrick Dodson, ‘Father Of Reconciliation’, Announced As Labor Replacement For Departing Senator


Patrick Dodson – the Aboriginal man dubbed ‘The Father of Reconciliation’ by Australian media – is heading to federal parliament.

In a surprise announcement this morning, Opposition leader Bill Shorten told media Dodson would replace outgoing Senator Joe Bullock, who announced his resignation from parliament yesterday in protest at being bound by the party to vote in favour of same-sex marriage in 2019.

The replacement is an irony for Labor – Bullock was an extreme conservative, and once turned his back on an Aboriginal woman during a Welcome to Country ceremony.

Dodson, by contrast, is pro Aboriginal rights and treaty, and has long campaigned on human rights issues.

Dodson is the brother of Mick Dodson, the 2009 Australian of the Year. He’s the former Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and a former Catholic Priest. In 2008, Dodson won the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize, for his work in Aboriginal communities.

Dodson lives in Broome, and is a strong supporter of the Recognise campaign, which promotes constitutional recognition. He’s been involved at the national level in Aboriginal politics for several decades and is a polarising figure in Aboriginal political debate – he’s considered too close to government by grassroots activists, but Dodson does enjoy strong respect across Aboriginal leadership circles.

He was a key figure in negotiations around the Native Title Act in 1992 and 1993, following the Mabo High Court victory.

Dodson’s announcement is the latest in what’s emerged as a mad scramble by the major parties to run Aboriginal candidates in the upcoming federal election.

Earlier this week, NSW Aboriginal MP Linda Burney, deputy leader for NSW Labor, announced she would be contesting the federal seat of Barton for Labor, in the inner west of Sydney.

Aboriginal rights campaigner Tammy Solonec has also announced her candidacy for Labor in the West Australian seat of Swan, a Liberal seat in Perth. Solonec is well respected in Aboriginal affairs, and has served as a Director of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the nation’s peak advocacy body.

Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant has also publicly acknowledged he’s considering a tilt at federal politics, and while he’s stayed silent about which party he’s in talks with, it’s likely he would run with the Coalition.

Already, federal parliament includes Northern Territory Labor Senator Nova Peris, West Australian Liberal Member Ken Wyatt and Liberal-National Senator Joanna Lindgren, who filled a vacancy left by the retirement of Senator Brett Mason in Queensland.

If all three are successful – Wyatt, Lindgren and Peris are returned (a given) – it would take the number of Aboriginal federal parliamentarians to six. But five is more likely – Burney should win the seat of Barton, but Solonec will struggle in Swan.

Even six remains one seat short of proportional representation (Aboriginal people make up about 3 per cent of the national population, so should at least hold 7 seats out of the 228 available). Five years ago, there were no Aboriginal people in federal parliament.

Prior to the election of Wyatt, Aden Ridgeway and Neville Bonner were the only two Aboriginal people to have served in federal parliament in its entire history – Ridgeway for the Democrats, and Bonner for the Queensland Liberals.

Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie claims Aboriginal heritage, but she is not recognised by the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

The Greens remain the only major party to have never had an Aboriginal parliamentarian – indeed the Greens are also the only major Australian party to have never pre-selected an Aboriginal candidate to a winnable seat.

* This story has been corrected – it originally left out Liberal-National Senator Joanna Lindgren, who replaced Senator Brett Mason last year.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.