Nova Peris Defends Leaving Senate In Tearful Press Conference

'It's not easy to wake up every morning and bounce out of bed and pretend that life is fantastic. Because it isn't.'

26/05/2016 11:36 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
Fairfax Media
Nova Peris and Bill Shorten in Darwin

Outgoing senator Nova Peris has defended her decision to quit the Senate, fighting back tears as she spoke passionately about Aboriginal issues and her reasons for leaving.

The Northern Territory senator and former athletic star sensationally announced her decision to not stand for election at the July 2 poll, throwing an unexpected spanner into the Labor Party's campaign plans.

"After careful deliberation with my family, I have chosen not to re-contest my Senate seat in the upcoming Federal election," she said in a statement on Tuesday.

"As a Northern Territory Senator, it has been an incredible honour and privilege to serve and work hard for all of my constituents in the NT."

In her first public appearance since the news, Peris stood with ALP leader Bill Shorten in Darwin on Sorry Day to defend her decision.

"Three years ago, I walked into Parliament as the first Aboriginal woman and until you are an Aboriginal person do not criticise me for the decisions I have made. This isn't easy. It's hard," she said through tears.

"I may be leaving but I am leaving on my terms and I want to make this clear, no-one should judge me. I am an Aboriginal women with strengths and resilience that I have had to endure for 45 years. And it's not easy to wake up every morning and bounce out of bed and pretend that life is fantastic. Because it isn't. Aboriginal people have no inherited wealth. They have inherited pain."

Peris reportedly has had offers from the Australian Football League to take a top Indigenous development role with the code, but she did not detail her exact reasons for leaving the Senate or exactly what her next role would be.

"I am not going to make any further comment apart from this decision that I've made has been on family and I have to look after my children," Peris said.

"I hope that my next journey in my life I'm able to make significant changes but also also continue that impact they've made in inspiring not only Aboriginal people but also young Australians to also get out and live their dreams."

When a journalist asked about the timing of her announcement, just weeks from the election, she gave a heated response.

"I am sure you don't go around every day justifying the things that you do. Listen to me. I am a politician but I am also human," she said.

Criticisms have been levelled over Peris' decision, after she was former PM Julia Gillard's "captain's pick" to enter the Senate for the ALP. Labor's former Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin lost her seat due to Peris' elevation to the upper house, and told The Australian it was "a misjudgment and it was a mistake".

Shorten gave a glowing testimonial to Peris, saying she would be "prioritising her family" after leaving the parliament.

"She is a remarkable Australian. The Labor Party has been fortunate to have her energy and commitment in the last three years in the Senate. She's been a champion, not just for indigenous Australians but for women and indeed for the Territory. She's been a champion on the track, she she's been a champion in the parliament. I wish Nova, my friend, the very best in the future," he said.

"She is choosing the terms on which she leaves... Nova Peris' accomplishments are not in any fashion diminished in my opinion."

"I think it takes a great deal of personal dignity to know when you think it's time to finish one part of your career and to do other things... she has the complete blessing of the Labor Party."

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