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Q&A with Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng: A Greens Senate Candidate

Dr. Goreng Goreng at the ACT Greens Braddon. (Elly Collie)

In the lead-up to the 2022 Federal election, the parties are lobbying hard and highlighting their goals to secure votes. The Greens party is no exception, with their strategy based around strong environmental and social justice policies. Support for the Greens Party is on the rise in the ACT, where it won a historically high number of seats at the most recent Legislative Assembly elections.  

Dr. Tjanara Goreng Goreng is a First Nations woman who believes in challenging the system. She has been an academic at the University of Canberra, a unionist, whistle-blower and senior public servant. Throughout these roles, she saw how the government can change people’s lives.

She believes the federal government is failing to listen to those who are marginalised and because of this, she seeks to make a change. This inspired her to join the Greens, who have endorsed her as a Senate candidate.

I was able to sit down with Dr. Goreng Goreng and ask her questions about the views and objectives which she and the Greens party will take to the next election.

Dr. Goreng Goreng spoke to me alongside her dog, Bacchi, in the ACT Greens’ office located in Braddon. After our discussion, I was invited to attend a smoking ceremony to bless the space and prepare for the coming weeks.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your journey and what brought you to the point of running as a Greens candidate for the Senate?  

A: I was always interested in politics as a young person coming here after university. I married someone in the press gallery. It was part of my life for ten years. Although I was a public servant and an academic, that was my chosen career, I always had an interest in Labor politics.

After I finished in the public sector, I decided that I would join a political party. I was in the Labor Party for a while, but a number of circumstances happened that made me want to change. My brother had been in the Greens for 12 years, and he kept trying to convince me to join.  In the end, I realised I was only with Labor because my father was a unionist and a worker, a Labor Party man, and my mother, being First Nations, also always voted Labor.

While the Greens policies were focused on platforms like anti-nuclear and climate, I thought they needed a greater First Nations focus. But maybe they did not have enough First Nations people to help them.  I felt like I needed to say it to them loud.

I was on the elected body in Canberra, and I had to go to meetings with different Ministers. One day I was in a meeting with Shane Rattenbury and I was very impressed with how the meeting went. It was very controversial; there were many issues for many people, not just First Nations people. He managed it so well and I thought that these were skilled people, not like normal politicians.  I started forming a connection with the party, and one day his Chief of Staff asked me why I didn’t join.  I did join and discovered that I loved it.

Q: What fundamental changes do you and the Greens hope to implement if elected?

A: I think the main thing is to make sure the whole country understands that if we do not take action in many parts of the system around climate and the way we treat the planet, there will not be a planet for the next two or three generations. You can say goodbye to it.

If we do not take care of peace and disarmament foreign policy – we will not have a planet because somebody will drop a nuclear bomb. Ultimately, even though they are there for deterrence, they are not there for peace, and our platform is peace and nonviolence.

Green politics is important to me because I worked on the convention against minerals mining in Antarctica during the Hawke era. Everybody at that time thought the Greens were a bunch of wackos, freaking out because the climate needed to be looked after. Now, look at us. People are freaking out because the climate needs to be looked after. Aboriginal people were thinking this back in my grandfather’s generation. If you do not take care of this land, it will turn on you. There are, of course, other things to address, but if we take care of the physical part of our planet and the emotional and physical part of people’s lives, it will make a big difference.

Q: As a First Nations woman, academic and experienced public servant, what do you believe are the key issues for indigenous communities in contemporary Australian society? 

A: The most important thing is the recognition of sovereignty. I do not mean constitutional recognition because I do not want my sovereignty recognised in a colonial constitution. Neither do most Aboriginal people who do not have a voice, and it does not get in the media. What gets in the media is what the government wants in the media.

I am in Greens politics because they listen to their First Nations network. We are a very strong network, and we took two years to work out a major policy for the First Nations people based on truth, treaty, and voice. But it is also about getting the member bodies of the Federation to look at their white privilege from an individual, systemic perspective.

Smoking Ceremony at the ACT Greens Office Braddon. (Elly Collie)

Q: The Greens seem to be on a path of increasing popularity in the ACT. Why do you think this is happening? 

A: Because people want change.  That is really what it gets down to. They want integrity and honesty, and I think they like consensus, collaboration, and unity. Even though we are not perfect as a political party, there are certain principles and values that I truly believe we should act and be like. There is no point in just writing them on paper and not doing them. I do not live my life that way, and there are people in the Greens that have that same feeling.

There was a point to setting up this political party, writing those four pillars and the value system. I think people read them and look for us to “walk the talk”.  If I don’t, people have a right to say I don’t want to vote for you.  But we have shown we are able to do it in the ACT. People are seeing something different. That is why I think it has increased the number of people who are seeing and connecting to things that matter to them.

Pin wall at the ACT Greens Office in Braddon. (Elly Collie)

Q: What advice would you give to the ACT electorate for the upcoming election?

A: They need to be intuitive, to go within themselves and ask what matters to them. What do I care about? That is what I think when I vote.

It is not up to me to give anyone advice, but my experience of being a voter is that you vote for what matters to you. Some people will even write an invalid vote because they do not care; and that matters. That says something to politicians as well; that there are people you are making compulsorily vote that do not want to because they do not care.  Or they want to say I cannot stand you. What I would say is: vote for what you feel is important. 

Q: If you could give a message to all ACT voters, what would it be? 

A: Use your democratic right. As a citizen, you have a democratic right to pick your government and then you have a right to make them accountable. So, take your vote and use it. Stand up and challenge them and make them accountable. I think if there is too much apathy, the government gets away with a lot. If people care, they will say it is not okay, and they will vote them out.

Dr. Goreng Goreng and her dog, Bacchi. (Elly Collie)

Dr Goreng Goreng comes to the political process with a unique background and passionate views.  Her push for the Senate is set against the backdrop of one of the most politically challenging periods in a lifetime, underpinned by significant security, financial and social issues.  With the election set for the 21st of May, it will be interesting to see if the increase in Greens representation in the ACT can be replicated at the Federal level.