Bill Shorten has picked prominent indigenous leader Pat Dodson to replace retiring Labor senator Joe Bullock.
Mr Dodson is the second Aboriginal leader to be hand-picked by Labor for federal parliament in as many days, following NSW state MP Linda Burney’s recruitment to run for the seat of Barton on Tuesday.
Senator Bullock on Tuesday night announced he would leave parliament within weeks, citing his disagreement with Labor over a binding vote for MPs on same-sex marriage.
Mr Dodson is expected to get the nod from senior ALP figures at a meeting convened by national secretary George Wright this week, before being formally endorsed by the West Australian parliament for the casual vacancy.
The decision will head off a messy factional brawl in WA.
‘We should put aside the rough and tumble of the party system and give someone of Pat Dodson’s remarkable qualities the opportunity to serve as a senator,’ Mr Shorten said.
Mr Dodson, who has not been a member of the ALP since the 1980s, said he was honoured by Mr Shorten’s support.
‘After many conversations it became clear to me that this was a good opportunity and one that should not be passed up,’ Mr Dodson told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Mr Dodson was Australia’s first Aboriginal Catholic priest, ordained in 1975.
Following his departure from the church in 1981, he worked with the Central Land Council of which he became director in 1985.
In 1989 he was appointed a commissioner of the landmark royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and two years later became the inaugural chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
‘He is … a truth teller, a powerful advocate for recognition, justice, equality and fairness for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’ Mr Shorten said.
Mr Dodson said he wanted to pursue constitutional recognition of indigenous people and ways to reduce indigenous jail rates.
Former senator Louise Pratt – who was shunted by Senator Bullock from the top of Labor’s WA Senate ticket in the 2014 election re-run – was considered a possible candidate for the vacancy.
She told AAP she would not stand in Mr Dodson’s way, but would seek to be elected into the role at a later time.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion congratulated Mr Dodson on his nomination.
‘Should Professor Dodson fill the position, he will bring a great deal of political and life experience around First Australians to the parliament,’ Senator Scullion said in a statement.