By ERWIN CHLANDA
Chief Minister Adam Giles says he has “put aside” $20m for a national centre celebrating the cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and he’ll be seeking support for it from the other states and territories.
While he made it clear in a speech this morning that he wants it to be in Central Australia, the exact location preferred by him remains unclear.
In the speech he said “in Central Australia” (twice), “in Alice Springs” and “out of Alice Springs”. With the Uluru national park under Federal management it may be seen by other jurisdictions as a more neutral site.
When the Alice Springs News Online sought clarification this afternoon, Mr Giles replied via a spokesman: “The NT Government sees Central Australia as the logical and spiritual location of an Indigenous Cultural Centre of national significance. The NT Government is keen to lead the national conversation and will be issuing a discussion paper in the near future on the topic.”
Mr Giles was speaking at the opening in the Alice Plaza of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. He also announced Aboriginal employment targets for government contractors as well as the public service, and agreements with South Australia, whose Premier, Jay Weatherill, was present this morning.
About the culture centre Mr Giles said: “A lot of people are pushing me to put it into Darwin.
“In my opinion it should be in Central Australia. And it shouldn’t just be a cultural centre.
“It should be a keeping place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people from around this nation.
“Australia demands a facility of this kind and we should be fighting to get that in Alice Springs as the cultural heart of the nation.
“Now, $20m isn’t going to be enough to build it. If I have a look at the US as an example, [it] has a big facility in Washington and another one in New York,” Mr Giles said.
“They generally call them National Museum of American Indian Culture, keeping places or heritage centres.
“We have an opportunity in Australia to have a similar place which represents the 300 nations of Australia [and] to showcase all good things that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and base it out of Alice Springs.
“[It is] an opportunity to preserve cultural identity … ensure that history is not only preserved but presented well … so it grows from strength to strength.
“When I am in COAG, and I’m talking about reforms within the Federation, I’ll be saying that I’ve got $20m on the table to support the establishment of a keeping place in Central Australia.
“I’ll be calling on all the state and Territory leaders to put up and to help us investing in this.
“It’s an opportunity for us Territorians to lead the way.”
Mr Giles said having the departments for Aboriginal affairs, tourism and parks & wildlife now in Alice Springs “helps us from an economic point of view”.
It is also “decentralising decision making”.
He said when standing for Federal Parliament in 2007 he wanted to “drive change and get more economic opportunities for Aboriginal people in the NT and nothing has changed since that point in time”.
There will be requirements in the procurement process:–
• Requiring each contractor to achieve 30% Aboriginal employment for all government infrastructure contracts above $500,000.
• A new remote contracting policy aimed at ensuring 70% of small contracts for construction, repairs and maintenance in remote Aboriginal communities go to local Aboriginal businesses by 2017.
• Ensuring a minimum of five civil and construction contracts per year valued at over $5 million are awarded to joint venture proposals with Aboriginal businesses.
• A “provisional sum in the contracts” above $500,000, “an employment target [that] has to be reached to get an extra 10% on the contract.” (A 10% margin is offered to Territory-based tenderers.)
He said the Tiger Brennan Drive project in in Darwin employs a workforce that is 26% Aboriginal: “These things are starting to drive change.”
The new rules will create 2000 additional private sector jobs for Aboriginal people in the NT within two years: “All around the country there is nothing like that.”
Aborigines make up 30% of the NT population but in the workforce, only 8%: “That’s not good enough,” said Mr Giles.
“Let’s double what we’ve got, to 16% by 2020,” he says.
“This office is part of it. We need to get to 10% by February next year.”
Of the senior staff in the public service, only 20% are Aboriginal.
The new office will also develop a series of programs “to support the strategy’s aims, which include:
• Community Champions program.
• Remote Contracting and Procurement policy.
• Remote Economic Development strategy.
• Whole of Government monitoring and evaluation framework.
• First Circles Engagement: This initiative of Minister for Local Government and Community Services Bess Price will provide for 30 new and emerging Aboriginal leaders from across the Territory to have direct engagement with Cabinet on Aboriginal affairs policy matters, according to a media release.
In the Community Champions program Utopia will be “one of the big ones”.
The region will get the Under Treasurer as the Community Champion, says Mr Giles. Utopia is the “most under-done part of the nation, under-serviced, under-supported”.
There will be small grants “without paperwork” for tourism enterprises, $4.75m to improve infrastructure, up to $30,000 and up to $100,000 per grant.
On other issues, Mr Giles said in the referendum on Aboriginal recognition in the constitution, because the NT isn’t a state “we don’t get a proper vote”. He says he finds this “highly ironic”.
Mr Weatherill said he is supporting “fully” Mr Giles’s push for statehood.
Mr Giles said issues discussed with Mr Weatherill included cross border opportunities on early childhood care: “The first five years of life lay down the trajectory for health, wellbeing, learning, for the rest of your life,” said the SA Premier at a media conference.
Mr Giles called for “cohesion without being competitive” on tourism. “We don’t get our fair share of international tourism,” said Mr Weatherill to which he added: “We joked about getting your head bitten off by a crocodile up in Darwin and getting your head bitten off by a great white shark in Port Lincoln.” But there is lots in between.
He also wants the Federal Government to re-introduce concessions of the Ghan which is “under threat” because of their removal.
Other issues were policing, servicing communities, control of camels (300,000 to 400,000 of them).
Why doesn’t SA have the same speed limit as the NT – 130 km/h? “I’m with you,” said Mr Giles to the journalist asking the question.
Mr Weatherill said: “It’s a hard issue for us to grapple with. It’s more likely to achieve this through border shifting … there are some safety issues … we have very narrow verges.”
(The Alice Springs News Online reported in February last year that Mr Giles was in conversation with the SA Government about this speed limit issue.)
Mr Giles, in response to a media question, said his change of mind about abolishing the Indigenous affairs ministry had “nothing to do with politics, it’s to do with performance”.
He had terminated the position following his coup toppling his predecessor, Terry Mills.
In March Mr Giles told the ABC: “I think [an Aboriginal Affairs portfolio is] important at the Australian level but in the Northern Territory 30 per cent of our population is Indigenous and a lot of the services that as a Government we offer goes towards Indigenous Territorians.
“I’m going to lead the Government that will have ministers be accountable for delivery of services for all Territorians and if it’s road or housing or hospitals or health centres, those responsible ministers have got to go out there and do the job in that area.
“I’m not saying that they don’t but I want them to have an increased focus to delivering to all Territorians, not just pigeon-holing key Indigenous issues to one Aboriginal affairs minister.”
But today he admitted he got rid of the portfolio because while “I wanted every agency to be responsible” for Aboriginal affairs, “driving that change that quick has been difficult so I have re-instated it with myself as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs.”
Mr Weatherill, during the media doorstop, said the NT is “a jurisdiction led by an Aboriginal man that has a very large number of Aboriginal people in his Cabinet”. In fact he has only one – Bess Price.
PHOTOS (from top): The Office of Aboriginal Affairs opened on the first floor of the Alice Plaza shopping mall this morning. It has 51 staff NT-wide • Bess Price, Adam Giles and Jay Weatherill this morning • Doris Kngwarraye Stuart and Elaine Kngwarraye Peckham gave a feisty “welcome to country”, expressing concern over “damage to country” and constant demands for “compromise” •
By ERWIN CHLANDA