Australia’s first hijab-wearing Muslim senator has called on the nation to embrace its diversity and provide opportunities to people from all backgrounds and cultures.
Fatima Payman was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. When she was four, her father Abdul Wakil spent almost two weeks on a small boat crossing the Indian Ocean to arrive in Australia after fleeing Taliban rule.
It would be four more years before they were reunited with her father working as a kitchen hand, security guard and taxi driver to earn enough to bring his family over.
“I witnessed the struggles my parents went through to put food on the table, to pay for our education and to provide a roof over our heads,” Senator Payman told the Senate.
“From discrimination and abuse to job insecurity and low wages, my (late) father endured those hardships without complaining or seeking compensation.
“Like many hard working Australians this came as second nature to my parents who just wanted the best future for their four children.”
Senator Payman said she felt at home in Perth and it wasn’t until university where she was made to feel like “the other” after being ridiculed for wearing a hijab.
“Comments like, ‘Go back to where you came from’ or inferences to extremism forced me to feel like I didn’t belong,” she said.
“So as the daughter of a refugee who came to this land with dreams of a safe and better future, I gave myself that audacity to challenge the system and to see … how much change I could initiate.”
The former unionist pledged to ensure the better representation of non-Anglo communities, speaking in her native language of Dari to recite a poem about humans being one community.
“Australians showed us their appetite for a parliament that reflects our society because you can’t be what you can’t see,” she said.
“I want to work towards better representation in our federal and state parliaments by engaging with women, people of colour, faith and all walks of life to take up the opportunity.
“If I could make it, so can you.”
Tasmania’s Tammy Tyrrell also used her first speech to talk about diversifying politics and making it more accessible to everyone.
The Jacqui Lambie Network senator admitted she was an average student who worked on a farm and drew on her background to call on the government to do more to help Australians support themselves.
“I’ve seen bright, funny, confident people get broken by a long stint out of work. They get humiliated by it,” she said.
“It’s a kind of trauma, it’s bloody hard to come back from.
“When you’re out of work, you deserve help to get back on your feet. You deserve a lift up. If you can’t work, we should be working for you, to make your life better.”
The senator started her political career in Jacqui Lambie’s office eight years ago before putting her hand up for the Senate.
It was the notion of bringing more regular people into politics that enticed her to run, she said.
“I campaigned on the idea that we want more regular people in politics. I still reckon we do,” she said.
“But we can’t say we want it, then get grumpy when we get it. Politics is the only place where if you change your mind, you’re punished. You’re a flip-flopper, you can’t be trusted.
“I’m telling you now, I will get things wrong. I will make calls on how I vote that I’ll live to regret. I know that.
“I don’t want the normal to get drained out of me.”