09 March 2016, The Tablet

Catholic church and political leaders welcome Senate nomination for Australia's 'Nelson Mandela'

Aboriginal former Catholic priest known as 'Father of Reconciliation' will bring dignity to upper house

Prominent Indigenous leader and former Catholic priest Patrick Dodson, described by the leader of one Catholic agency as "the nearest Australia has to Nelson Mandela", is set to become a Senator after he was nominated to fill a vacancy in the upper house of the Australian Parliament.

Mr Dodson, known as the "Father of Reconciliation" for his work promoting understanding and concord between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and those who followed British settlement of the continent in 1788, was believed to be Australia's first Aboriginal Catholic priest when ordained in Darwin in 1975.

He left the priesthood several years later after clashes with the then Bishop of Darwin. Later, he served as a director of Aboriginal land councils, as a Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and then, for six years, as inaugural chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. More recently, he has been co-chair of a panel on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia's Constitution.

He was nominated as a Senator for Western Australia by the opposition Australian Labor Party after Labor Senator Joe Bullock announced his resignation on 2 March.

Indigenous and Catholic leaders welcomed Mr Dodson's nomination, with Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome - the north-west Australian town where Mr Dodson was born - saying Mr Dodson still held the Catholic values of his youth.

"It's evident from our conversations - some of his insights about everyday things like movies are Catholic to the bootstraps," Bishop Saunders told The Australian newspaper on 3 March.

The Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, Phil Glendenning, said Pat Dodson was a much-needed addition to Australia's Parliament, "and the nearest Australia has to Nelson Mandela”. “The political debate in this country has been toxic for far too long and that’s why today’s announcement is so important. As the father of Reconciliation, Pat is exactly who we need in Parliament at this time.”

A fellow leader of the Yawuru people of the Broome area, Mr Peter Yu, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Mr Dodson "will bring a degree of standard and dignity to that house in Canberra because I think he's quite beyond the level of politics that is played sometimes"



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