Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT) conference

Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians

I acknowledge the Larrakia people today and pay my respects to Elder’s past, present and emerging. We acknowledge Nicole Brown, who gave the Welcome this morning.

Well, I think Local Governments are deadly!

And our country needs the three tiers of government and one of the most wonderful things about working for the people, irrespective of where you are, who you are and what beliefs you may have, the wonderful thing is democracy and our ability as a country to speak about matters in a way that we can debate in forums with respect and clarity and put our case.

And each of you as Councillors and representatives of councils across the Northern Territory, are here for exactly that. Being the voice and the representative of the people who put you there. At times that can be really difficult. In fact, a lot of times that can be incredibly difficult. But it is still an absolute honour.

It will be 20 years next year when I put my hand up, to stand for the people of Arnhem. And not one day has gone by in that time, where I have not seen and felt the importance and the honour to be a voice, for those who cannot speak. And I think for each of you, in your roles as councillors across the local governments, that’s your voice. And yes, sometimes your voice has to clash, needs to clash because of the issue that you have to face – the hardships, the isolation, the crisis, the social issues. Your voice has to clash because if it doesn’t, then change will not happen. If you’re not out there batting for the people that you are there to represent, then what are you there for?

It’s the same as I travel across the Northern Territory of Australia, as your Senator. Your Senator. I hear this, right across the Territory and Australia, and I’m so proud of our country that we live in a fair and democratic nation. That we don’t have to go to war to fight one another, to get our views heard and our leaders in place in the country.

So when things get really tough, I just share this with you. Because I know it’s tough to represent. I share this with you, go back to why it is you stood, and go back to why it is that you work in an environment that is so tough. It usually comes back to your own values. When you care for one another and care for the places that you live in, and the people that you live beside. Where is the care, and the compassion and the love? Go back to that. I go back to it all the time. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t. Because sometimes the hunger for hate can be so great, it needs you, the people who can stand against that. The people need you to stand up against that hunger for hate. Because if you do not, we let down our whole country.

So I wanted to share that with you because I do believe in local government very strongly. I was the Local Government Minister here for a number of years and fought very hard for the issues that you still face – whether it’s funding, whether it’s employment, and the CDP Program, which I will now begin to speak about, but I understand those issues. I also understand the difficulties of not having the rates base, especially in our regional community councils. You don’t have the opportunities that Darwin has with the rate payers, that Katherine has, that Alice Springs has. But still, even Darwin, Katherine, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, and that’s another story, an unfinished story with the Barkly. And I acknowledge Peter’s presence here with that. But that is still a problem, even with the rates that we have, and I understand that too.

But can I say this and I know last year, you had the Federal Minister Kristy McBain address you. She is an outstanding Minister in Local Government at the federal level. On a number of levels I say that. One is that she is always advocating very strongly in the federal cabinet. We’ve not had I think in Australia the kind of inquiry that we now have, for nearly two decades, to look into local government right across this country. Each of you with your respective councils now have an opportunity to appear before that federal inquiry and put your issues. And let me tell you, we have a Senate and a House of Representatives that will listen to your issues through that inquiry, make good use of it. You haven’t had that voice at that federal level through any inquiries for 20 years. You now have that opportunity, use it wisely.

With the Federal Minister, you also have a gathering. I hope many of you can still come to Canberra. This will be the second gathering in June for councils across the country. Again, that is something we’ve implemented, when we came to government federally. So you have friends in Canberra, use it wisely.

I’d like to just go to one of our passions and I know it is for each of the councils and that is the Remote Jobs Program. I have tried to meet with many of you as I’ve travelled across the Territory and I’ll continue to meet with you, and even if I can’t, I’m always available on Teams, as many of you know, or phone calls. Local government matters to me, especially as I represent you in Canberra.

In February, we announced the Remote Jobs and Economic Development Program. A $707 million investment to create 3,000 jobs for remote Australians. And, of course to help close the gap in employment opportunities for First Nations peoples. And I am mindful that the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory, is the only one that is part of the close the gap conversations. Again, another opportunity for each of you to use that wisely, in the conversations that you’re trying to change with the many struggles and issues that you face with your respective councils.

This $707 million investment is the first step in delivering on our commitment to replace the failed Community Development Program or CDP with real jobs, proper wages and decent outcomes.

The Remote Jobs program is about self-determination. It is not about employment services. It’s about creating real jobs. Jobs that local communities want and need to grow in remote economies.

Under the jobs program, eligible community organisations will receive Commonwealth funding to create new jobs. The funding will cover the cost of salaries, superannuation, insurance and other resources and equipment needed for employees. Remote Jobs will be part time in most cases, full time where you can, reflecting community feedback for flexibility.

An important element of the new program is the Community Jobs and Business Fund. This will allow community organisations to identify projects that the community needs and apply for funding for capital and equipment.

Communities have told me they want to access things like laundries, butchers, mechanic workshops and to have work that their people are already doing, caring for family caring for country, recognised as work. And let’s face it, that’s exactly what it is. It is work.

With three job trials underway, we’re testing and learning new ways of building remote employment. There are so many success stories, but today, let me share Nadine’s. At 32 years old, this proud Yolngu woman is now four months into her first job and already in a formal traineeship as a hairdresser, working in the Millingimbi Hairdressing Community Project, as part of the CDP trials has changed her life. In Nadine’s words “coming to work every day, makes me feel happy all the time. I love learning from the trainers and trying new things with colour like turning the grey hairs black and bleaching,” or in my case red. “I also like cutting their hair and making new styles”. And they are Nadine’s words. And not only is she working in getting her traineeship, she’s working as the one and only hairdresser in Millingimbi. Not everyone wants to be a hairdresser, but I just wanted to share Nadine’s story.

In the Barkly region, the New Jobs Program Trial is creating jobs in horticulture, cultural wellbeing, as well as music and arts.

Alekarenge Horticulture, a not-for-profit Aboriginal community organisation is creating 12 new jobs and on-the-job training for senior high school students and adults.

Barkly Regional Arts is being funded to provide 4 new jobs and training in music production, while offering creative programs and activities for young people.

There are always challenges, always challenges and some people often ask where is this going? And I want to also add, if I may, with the other areas that I cover in health. I have been speaking to councils around the Territory, in fact, even in Central Australia as recently as last week. We also have the care sector. We have improved employment in the care sector. We know that with our aged care, with mental health and families, but also in their health clinician space. I have the task of recruiting 500 trainees as health clinicians. I want to see the bulk of that, here in the Northern Territory and in your particular areas, those of you who have responsibilities in that sector, and I know some of your councils have come to me about that. That is another area you can get involved in, as part of the jobs.

The same again with the family and domestic violence space. We have 500 positions in that space that we want to see employed across the country. I personally of course always want to see the Northern Territory have the large bulk in that. I know many of you have the family shelters in our communities across the Northern Territory.

These are some of the social issues, and they hit home in terms of the kind of work that many of the families have spoken to me about that that they want to be involved in. They want to be able to care for others, so what’s the sector, what are the jobs that we can provide. So let’s start with the jobs that we know people want to do. But we also need to go and have a vision for what the future looks like.

Infrastructure is absolutely the key. I have food security as one of the areas that I work on. And I’m mindful of the issues. In fact, I’ll be heading to Yarralin next week to have a look at some of the issues that are impacting there, in particular the roads. But the other area with food security is our ports, as we go around from Western Australia to Queensland, a lot of those ports, especially in northeast Arnhem Land, and even as far west, with the Wadeye area, we’ve got to make sure we have the facilities so that we can have the transport to provide the food and any other items.

We’ve got a $4 billion housing program over 10 years for the Northern Territory. We have to step up and be ready for that. And that means making sure that our roads access, our ability to transport all those houses to be built in our remote and regional parts of the country.

It is really quite an exciting time, but we’ve got to get it right. So I’m going to really lean on you guys, councillors, right across the Territory to give me that guidance as to how we’re going to do that well and ongoing, it has to be ongoing.

So I know you have a huge program today, I’ll leave it at that. I just want to thank you for your time. And can I just finish with just thanking you again, for your role as councillors wherever you may be, and just encourage you to always be respectful of the differences that each of you may have, but also the people that you meet along the way.

Thank you.

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