Question Time: Cost of Living

Chief Minister, your government over the last few days has spoken about lowering the cost of living for people in Darwin. Even though Nhulunbuy is a private town the people who live there are part of the Northern Territory and pay tax. Could you advise how the government is looking after this town as the mining operations wind down and, given the high prices in rent, high council rates that are more than double Darwin, high airfares, difficult road access and general remoteness?


Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question. First of all on the council rates I think as someone who pays council rates myself, we always argue that all council rates are too high but that is not something we set. When it comes to housing in Nhulunbuy township there has been established, and we are working with developing east Arnhem Land around this, a group of houses to essentially encourage business investment in Nhulunbuy as diversification away from the mine to reduce reliance on the mine and try to create a private sector investment. From that point of view Nhulunbuy township are looking at that.

What we are doing as a government is looking at how we can better support housing in the region. The Minister for Housing has been speaking in recent days around what we are doing in housing through the Territory but also near your country as well. We have an investment I widening the seal at Milingimbi airstrip and we also have at Galiwinku—I know the minister has been in consultation with local women—a safe house at Galiwinku.

We are also working on, and this perhaps goes back to the very start of your question around cost of living in remote areas of the Territory, reforming the pensioner concession scheme for seniors and we recognise in reforming this that people have gone to jail over this scheme. In tightening it up we can have an opportunity to look at the fairness of the scheme and people remotely were not getting the same level of access to it so how can we tighten the scheme up but also make it fairer in its distribution or access?

Money has been allocated in the budget for that and it will be worked on between now and 1 January but we are very much aware as a government that remote seniors have not been getting the same access to that scheme. They are some of the things we are working on when it comes to addressing cost of living; I think that is an important one.

We are very aware of the importance of Nhulunbuy to the Northern Territory and we are working with the mine and yourself, we will work with anybody to make sure we are addressing issues there. From the point of view of my department we have a very good person in place speaking with the private sector about investments there and there are some good ones there we are trying to nurture up and work with.

We are in their hands to a degree with what we can say on those projects when they are ready but there are some very good, positive projects happening in your region that we are more than happy to work with you on.


Question Time: Ramingining Link Road & Central Arnhem Highway


Last year’s budget allocated $16m over two years to lift and seal the road between Ramingining and the Central Arnhem Highway. Has this money been used or is it accounted for in your budget announced yesterday?

Will your government’s budget include upgrades to the Central Arnhem Highway?


Madam Speaker, I understand that we do have some funding with regards to the Ramingining Road but I have not been able to find the location my the papers. I will get you an answer.

With regards to the Central Arnhem Highway we do not have any specific money beyond the maintenance where we have allocated $0.5m. We also have work happening there at moment. Graders are there at the moment. The Central Arnhem Highway will also feature in the 10-year infrastructure plan. It is a road that I have mentioned in meetings with federal counterparts. I have heard from your and others about the importance of the Central Arnhem Highway. We have a very extensive road network, a lot of which is unsealed.

I will get back to you member for Nhulunbuy with information on that particular road and access to Ramingining. The Central Arnhem Highway will feature in the ten-year infrastructure plan. We want to see more of it sealed over time to make it more accessible, particularly in and out of your electorate. We know that if you have a family the cost of coming in to Darwin for a while you have very limited options. Getting on the plane for some families is not affordable.

Getting on the road is one way they can get back into town. It is a very important road servicing the region. I will get you more details with regards to the Ramingining question as soon as possible today. You have raised the Central Arnhem Highway with me, it is on the radar, you will see it in the ten-year infrastructure plan. There is much more work to do there, like many of the roads in the Territory. n that.


Question Time: Economic Development Fund & Homelands


The 2017-18 Budget includes $2m for the remote aboriginal economic development fund. Many indigenous people in the homelands in North East Arnhem Land are seriously wanting to try and start small businesses but they are in need of support to get their initiatives off the ground. So often funds have been allocated in budgets for remote Aboriginal economic development but programs never connect to people at the homelands level. So often people at the homelands know nothing about these programs.

What plans are in place to ensure these people at homelands level are able to benefit from these economic development funds?


Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from the Member of Nhulunbuy because it goes to a body of work that we want to do. As you say, there are grants there are available for remote indigenous economic development. Not everybody is aware of them or had access to support around taking advantage of those grants.

I am doing a body of work, probably more the Department of the Chief Minister than DTPI but between the two how we can better coordinate what we do across the Territory remotely. There has been some good work done in parts of the Northern Territory around this already. The model through DCM that is in place at the moment for example in Wadeye has been quite good at coordinating and informing locals both in Wadeye and in the homelands about access to services.
We are looking at how we can work with the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and the regional economic directors to form a better connection with remote Territorians about what is available. It is not just, ‘Here is a regional indigenous economic development grant.’ for example but then there is the capacity building in other things that can go around it. NDIS provides an example of how we can do this in practice and help shape some of our investment.
We recognise that social need provides economic opportunity. It is a positive thing; we are looking at it through our hosing program too. NDIS provides an economic opportunity and delivers on a social need. As a government, we want to work with locals to be able to deliver on that.

It provides a good example of how we can provide a capacity building to then build into the development of a business that might receive some grant support to get up and going. Then it has a sustainable base, through the social money that has provided against that social need. In that instance NDIS.

If you go to the housing example how can we work with Indigenous business enterprises to build up, grow, have greater capacity and involve the homelands in those opportunities. These are things we can do if we work better as a government.
It is not, in this instance, necessarily about the grant pools or the size of them it is about how we better work with and communicate with remote Territorians. It forms part of our local decision making framework and how we can transfer this over.
It is about greater capacity and recognition that people remotely are capable of this economic and entrepreneurial opportunity, we just have to make sure we work and support them better, pull in that capacity of capability when it is necessary, provide access to grants. At the very heart of you question, we need to communicate with them so they know those opportunities are there.
This is something we are taking on as a government. I am working with my department on how we can better arrange ourselves to deliver on that.


Question Time: Government Treaty Policy and Local Authorities


In relation to your government’s treaty policy what does ‘local authorities’ mean? For example, what powers will local authorities give to first nations to self-govern?


Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from the Member for Nhulunbuy. The process we are taking with treaty is a bit slower than that. That is jumping ahead. We are saying at the moment that we support the debate about treaty and a treaty, but we want to hear from people what their versions of treaty are. There are a significant number of people who have differences of opinion about what should or should not be in a treaty.

We will have that conversation which will build up to decision on what you are asking about. We will go through a consultative process that works up to what would or would not be in a treaty and how they are taking this approach in other places. There is conversation about whether you have a Territory-wide treaty or work on a more regional basis with different groups. It might be that treaty takes on different forms in different parts of the Territory.

It is something we have to work through which is why we will have that subcommittee of Cabinet to make it very serious, elevate it and have a strong conversation about what is in or out of the treaty. For me, it falls into a bundle of issues we have at the moment that are important for recognition and advancement of issues – Aboriginal justice agreement and strengthening local decision-making. There is a natural logic to get the local decision-making agenda into the treaty agenda. If you get the local decision-making settings right and trust the decisions locals make – which may take the form of an MOU or other types of agreements with locals on the ground – that then is a natural platform, potentially, into a strong treaty situation.

For me, there is a lot to work through in this area. I note and pay respect to the fact that there are a number of people with differences of opinion about what this means. The mistake I do not want to make is to stand in the white house of parliament, as the Chief Minister, and dictate this to people locally. We have to make sure we get this the right way around from the ground up and we are very much listening and taking on what people are saying, then acting. There will be a series of processes we will have to work through to get there. This has to be something that is in the hands of the people, where there is clear trust established about what it means and entails.
For me, it has to embody that recognition of local first people and have a practical outcome at the other end about how we deliver better services and provide better trust and decision making for locals, with greater control over their lives, which is the meaningful outcome we all want. That is the process we have to work through. We have to take people with us along that journey and we have to do it from a position of initially listening and saying, ‘We agree on treaty. Let us talk about the details and how we get it right’, not rush it and I do not sit here as Chief Minister in Darwin dictating the state of affairs.


Question Time: NAPLAN Testing For Indigenous Students


NAPLAN testing is today. This test is in English and uses English speakers’ world view as the means of assessment. This clearly puts Indigenous students at a disadvantage, many of whom do not speak English as a first language, and who live out of an Indigenous cultural world view. Will the Northern Territory Government continue to submit Indigenous students to this exam forever?

Madam Speaker, I thank the Member for Nhulunbuy for the question. It is a pertinent question, as this week is NAPLAN week for schools across Australia. It is a federal initiative, not one of those things the Northern Territory Government controls. It is also tied to Commonwealth funding.

If we do not do NAPLAN testing we would probably not receive funding from the federal government, which is also pertinent, as the federal government introduces its budget. There has been a lot of talk about the amount of money going into education across Australia. The story in the Northern Territory is not that good.

I think we all agree that NAPLAN is a point-in-time test, and is probably is not the fairest measure for kids whose English is a second, third or fourth language. But it provides data for a heap of purposes.

That said, by Year 5, 7 and 9—the older years—we hope all our Territory can close the gap and achieve better results. It is a measure of how well our students are going in English. Over the years it has had a greater emphasis than it should have. To me, it is just another test. We should not put so much stress on our students in regard to that test. Children are tested regularly in school and NAPLAN is just another one of those.

Member for Nhulunbuy, I hear your concerns regarding Indigenous children. The same goes for children who are refugees and migrants as well.

I visited Yuendumu recently and they were looking at testing children in phonics using their own language of Warlpiri. I think over time things may change with NAPLAN, but it is a federal initiative, and most of our principals and schools should take the pressure off children and encourage them to simply do as well as they can.