A man of Professor Pat Dodson’s age does not try to run a 100 metre sprint in 10 seconds.
It’s a diplomatic way to explain why the Indigenous leader may not be taking up his place in the Senate when it’s recalled on Monday.
Prof Dodson, 66, is Labor’s pick to replace resigning senator Joe Bullock, who announced his exit last month over a personal conflict with the party’s stance on gay marriage.
But Senator Bullock held off his official resignation until this week, delaying Prof Dodson’s formal sign-off in the West Australian parliament.
Prof Dodson – also known as the father of reconciliation – does not appear to harbour hard feelings, saying these types of transitions take some time.
“I suppose when you get to my age you’re not necessarily trying to (run) the hundred yard sprint in 10 seconds,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
Senator Bullock tabled his resignation on Wednesday, the incoming senator understands, and the processes to move the Indigenous leader into the red chamber were underway.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has recalled the parliament next week to deal with legislation to reinstate the building industry watchdog.
If that doesn’t pass, voters will go to an early election on July 2.
The incoming senator is not convinced that’s a good enough reason to be calling politicians back to Canberra when the nation still faces issues like disproportionate Indigenous incarceration.
“It should be being recalled, in my view, to deal with these appalling custody rates of the first peoples of this country,” he said.
In the 25 years since the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody tabled its report, Indigenous incarceration rates have doubled.
About 750 people have died behind bars since then, with one-in-five being Indigenous.
Prof Dodson said the figures showed legislators had not learnt from the past.
“We must be better than that,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten revealed Prof Dodson as his captain’s pick for the Senate last month, confident he would provide wisdom and guidance.
It could also provide some hope of relations across the political divide, with former prime minister Tony Abbott one of the first to call and congratulate Prof Dodson on his nomination.
The West Australian, known for his strong principles, promised to make his position on Indigenous affairs “well heard” on the floor of the Labor caucus.
“Old dogs are hard to teach new tricks,” he quipped.
Labor has tough policies on voting against the party platform but Prof Dodson said no one had tried to gag him yet.
He is also convinced the Labor Senate team will not let his possible absence next week be a disadvantage by securing a pairing with the coalition for votes.
AAP understands the government would be willing to grant a pair for the casual vacancy.