Vowles goes to the Top End in Ab affairs

One politician closely watching Victoria’s tentative steps towards treaty is the Northern Territory’s new Aboriginal Affairs minister, Ken Vowles.

Mr Vowles, an Aboriginal MLA who holds the seat of Johnston, was sworn in as NT Aboriginal Affairs minister yesterday in a cabinet reshuffle that also saw Selena Uibo promoted to the frontbench.

The Aboriginal Affairs portfolio was previously held by Chief Minister Michael Gunner, who will remain the Territory’s Minister for Treaty.

Mr Vowles told NIT that he expected to be doing the “heavy lifting” on treaty, with Mr Gunner co-ordinating moves forward.

He said he had been following developments in Victoria on a personal level and would telephone his Victoria counterpart.

“One of the phone calls I will make is to talk to the Minister down there and see how it all works,” Mr Vowles said.

“They’ve just got it through. It’s great for Victoria.”

But Mr Vowles said the NT was different to Victoria and they would be having their own talks to find out what Territorians want.

Mr Vowles’ appointment to the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio follows the NT Labor government’s signing this month of a historic agreement with four of the Territory’s powerful Aboriginal land councils.

The Barunga agreement commits the NT government and the councils to a three-year process which will involve consultation with all Territorians to “develop a process to negotiate a Northern Territory treaty”.

Mr Vowles, famous as a former NT cricketer, first indicated his interest in the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio early this year. He also holds the portfolio of Primary Industry and Resources and the Arafura Games, an event for disabled and able-bodied athletes which will return next year.

Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty had previously been in the one portfolio.

Mr Vowles said the government’s priorities in Aboriginal Affairs included remote housing, children and education and treaty.

As an Aboriginal man born and raised in the NT, he said he was well placed to understand the issues affecting Aboriginal people.

Meanwhile, Ms Uibo, who holds the seat of Arnhem and whose mother is of Nunggubuyu and Wanindilyakwa descent, has taken on the portfolios of education and workforce and training.

She was not available to comment.

Wendy Caccetta

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