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Sheena Watt makes Victorian Labor history

Sheena Watt has been sworn in as Labor’s first female Aboriginal MP in the Victorian parliament.

The 36-year-old Yorta Yorta woman received a standing ovation from MPs when she was sworn in during a joint sitting of the lower and upper houses of parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

Her mother joined her at parliament, while her sister in Queensland watched on via the parliament website livestream due to coronavirus restrictions.

Ms Watt fills the upper house northern metropolitan region vacancy left by former health minister Jenny Mikakos.

As Victoria emerges from the pandemic, Ms Watt says it is more important than ever Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are represented in parliament.

“We need all sorts of people in the parliament to make it work. I think I bring something really unique and different perspective to the team. I know it will be valued as we navigate the days ahead,” she told AAP.

Brothers Cyril and David Kennedy were sworn in as Labor’s first Aboriginal MPs in the Victorian parliament in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while Senator Lidia Thorpe was the first Aboriginal woman in state parliament after winning the 2017 Northcote by-election for the Greens.

Ms Watt said she has been involved with the Australian Labor Party for many years but was never focused on a career in politics.

“All that I’ve ever done has been focused on the community and how to give back to the community that has supported me and my family through some tough times,” she said.

Ms Watt was born in Melbourne’s northern suburbs but her family moved frequently after her father was diagnosed with a disability requiring full-time care when she was aged 12.

“Overnight, our family life changed forever and my sister, my mum and I, we all became carers,” Ms Watt said.

“The impact of that, it just truly changed the course of my life forever and it’s something that really burnt into my values and what’s important to me.”

Ms Watt began her career in a call centre working with vulnerable young workers and was most recently the deputy chair of Merri Health and the executive manager of Aboriginal policy and programs at AFL SportsReady, where her role centred on unlocking employment opportunities for Aboriginal young people.

“In my role at AFL SportsReady, I speak to businesses, industry and government and I remind them that inclusion is not optional,” she said.

“We really need to make sure that inclusion is front and centre of the coronavirus recovery right here in Victoria and especially in job creation.”

Ms Watt has also previously worked at the Stroke Foundation and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and has served on the boards of the Victorian Council of Social Services, VicHealth and Women’s Health Victoria.

She said roles have afforded her opportunities to hear directly from the people she now calls constituents.

“(I’ve heard) stories of resilience, hope and strength that encouraged me and I’m hoping that I can continue to be inspired by them as I navigate my path in the parliament and in the future as we make our way out of this health pandemic,” she said.

“How do we amplify these voices and make sure no one is left behind? That’s something I am truly passionate about.”

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