The federal Upper House looks set to have its youngest-ever senator.
Jordon Steele-John, 22, has announced he is prepared to take on the West Australian seat left vacant by the resignation of his mentor Scott Ludlam.
Mr Steele-John is next in line for the position because he was third on the Greens Senate ticket at last year’s election.
The university student also has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
Mr Steele-John said he had reflected on his position over the last week and spoken to family and friends.
“A decision of this magnitude isn’t to be taken lightly. I’ve spent the last six years talking about youth and disability issues and I’m incredibly excited to take that voice and lived experience into the Parliament,” he said.
“To hit the ground, well, if not running, then moving in a rapid direction.”
‘Disability created by society’
Mr Steele-John said he did not want to see people with a disability continually stopped from achieving their goals.
“Disability is something created by society, not by a medical condition, and we can and should together break down some of those myths and barriers which stop people participating as full and equal citizens,” he said.
Jordon Steele-John with Adam Bandt, the former deputy leader of The Greens and Federal Member for Melbourne. (Facebook: Jordon Steele-John)
Some of those preconceived notions were clear when Mr Steele-John first campaigned as the Greens candidate for Fremantle in 2013.
“We put together a different strategy in light of the fact door-knocking might be a bit of a challenge,” he said.
“I handed out leaflets at a local shopping centre from a table decked out with campaign material.
“Throughout the day, people placed coins on the table or asked their kids to bring money over because they thought I was fundraising for charity rather than asking to be their elected representative.
“So I think that’s a good example of how disability has always been framed around the idea of charity and there’s a need to shift that to one of more fundamental rights.”
Media reports earlier this week suggested Mr Steele-John was under pressure from some in the Greens not to take up the vacant Senate seat. But he denied that was the case.
“Not at all. I’ve experienced the tremendous support of Scott and Rachel [Siewert] and the entire WA parliamentary team and also the national parliamentary team through this process,” he said.
UK-born Steele-John ‘absolutely sure’ of citizenship
Mr Steele-John was born in the UK, and with the Greens having lost two Senators in a week for being dual citizens, he laughingly explained he was eligible to sit in Parliament.
“Yes, absolutely sure. I went through the process of renouncing my British citizenship during the 2013 Federal Election, I’m absolutely sure of that fact,” he said.
Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin welcomed the prospect of having an Australian with a disability in the Senate.
“It will certainly affect the way we make laws in the Parliament. It means there will be a voice, a person who has an experience of disability will be able to contribute to the discussion,” he said.
“It’s really important that when we make laws, we think about the impact they will have on people in the community. And often we see laws that have an adverse impact in people with a disability. So this is a great step in the right direction.”