Article – Northern Territory leader Adam Giles pitches indigenous workforce to Asian businesses

21 October 2013
Amos Aikman
The Australian

Adam Giles

Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles says bringing economic activity to the bush is vital. Picture: Amos Aikman Source: The Australian

NORTHERN Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles says indigenous communities could become major suppliers of food to Australian and Asian markets.

In an interview marking the first time The Australian has been printed in Darwin, Mr Giles acknowledged the Country Liberals had had a tough first 14 months in office, but said his government was now firmly focused on economic development.
“It is a different type of government for the Country Liberals, having somewhat of a coalition between urban and remote locations, and balancing the needs and expectations of everyone is a challenge,” he said. “We’ve managed to make sure that there’s increased economic activity in Darwin, in Alice Springs and in Katherine.
“What we need to do (now) is economic activity in Aboriginal communities.”
Speaking ahead of his departure on Saturday for Japan and China, Mr Giles said he would be asking major companies such as Mitsubishi to invest in downstream petrochemical processing around Darwin, and in agriculture near remote communities.
“If they’re interested in investing into horticultural and agricultural development, that could work in partnership with Aboriginal communities (to) grow food that can be for the benefit of the Territory, potentially Australia and also parts of Asia,” Mr Giles said.
“There are probably four or five places where we’re really trying to gain emphasis at the moment.”
The CLP took power in August 2012 by winning five extra seats in the bush and none in towns.
In March, Mr Giles ousted his predecessor in a coup, and his government has since been criticised – including by its own members – for neglecting the Aboriginal voters who elected it.
Mr Giles acknowledged key planks of the CLP’s election commitments, namely local government reform and changes to Aboriginal homelands funding, had been delivered poorly.
Regional authorities could now replace regional councils “right across the Territory” beginning next year, and the CLP’s election commitment to tie homelands funding to employment and school attendance looks set to be scrapped.
Mr Giles said bringing economic activity to the bush was the key to ending dysfunction.
But critics have accused him of not thinking his plans through.
The Territory already has many failed or struggling enterprises conceived with an eye to enlivening the bush, and surviving ones do not often employ large numbers of indigenous people.
Mr Giles said this latest push towards indigenous economic development was being co-ordinated by a “small unit” in his office. He declined to reveal the size and makeup of the team and said at present there was no written strategy even in draft form.
“There’s no budgetary allocation. It’s about us being able to facilitate things,” he said.
“We haven’t looked at how you measure performance.
“For us success will be if there are communities that start to get ventures off the ground. We are not setting any KPIs (key performance indicators).”
Many Tiwi Islanders were angered recently when they learned Mr Giles had been secretly negotiating 99-year leases over large tracts of their land in return for negligible payment.
Traditional owners received a much larger payment for a lease over the main community of Wurrumiyanga, negotiated by the Howard government. But former local member, Marion Scrymgour, claims that has so far been of little lasting benefit.
Mr Giles said getting economic activity started was difficult, and predicted federal changes to welfare would be necessary.
“You need someone who’s got vision to be able to drive this stuff, and that’s something I’m trying to do,” Mr Giles said. “We’ve got to ensure that where there are jobs that in those locations, in consultation with the local community and traditional owners, that we tighten up the welfare.”
Part of Mr Giles’s public justification for defenestrating his predecessor, Terry Mills, was to end the destabilisation in which his supporters were heavily involved. But the CLPs infighting has continued.
CLP sources told The Australian tension between Mr Giles and and his deputy, Dave Tollner, was rising, and described attempts by each to undermine the other.
Mr Giles said he felt secure.
“I don’t even look at those issues,” he said.
“If somebody wants to take the job, I’m more than happy for them to take it, but what we need to do is make sure we’re driving the government in the right direction.
“I know we’ve been in for 12 months, but this is still, and will be for a few years, still starting afresh about (and) how do you do that.”
Courtesy of The Australian