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First Aborigine Elected in Autralia's Lower House


Australia has elected the country's first Aboriginal member of the lower house of the parliament. Ken Wyatt has been declared the winner in a Western Australian constituency for the conservative opposition Liberal Party, having won the seat of Hasluck.

While Australia waits for the government to form, indigenous groups are celebrating a landmark moment with the election of Wyatt, one of their own, into the House of Representatives in Canberra.

Aboriginal communities around the country have praised Ken Wyatt's achievement, but the new member of parliament also received racist e-mails and telephone calls attacking him.

Wyatt said he has grown used to such discrimination.

"As a child I learned that very early, and over the years I have had some extreme racism. But look, you just take that in your stride," Wyatt said. "You notice it. What you hope to do is to change the way in which Australia thinks about its oldest living culture, to value it and then to move forward."

Wyatt also said he wants to be not only a "torchbearer" for his constituency, but also the Aboriginal community.

Indigenous politicians have served in the upper chamber, the Senate, and in various state governments, where they represent an alienated and disaffected group.

Australia's original inhabitants suffer high rates of poor health, unemployment and imprisonment. Their communities also see soaring levels of alcohol and drug abuse. Poverty is endemic in many indigenous settlements, which are plagued by domestic violence and despair.

Government efforts over the years have failed to appreciably improve the lives of most Aborigines, whose life expectancy is about 10 years less than that of other Australians.

Ken Wyatt hopes to put such concerns back on the national agenda.

But whether he will be able to do so as a member of the ruling party remains unclear. His victory, made official nine days after national elections is not enough for the conservative coalition to form the next government.

The governing Labor Party and the Liberal-National coalition fell just short of a majority. Both are negotiating to form coalitions with a handful of independent and Green lawmakers.

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