Australia gets first Aboriginal leader

2013-03-14 08:43
(Greg Wood, AFP)

(Greg Wood, AFP)

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Canberra - Australia has its first Aboriginal leader of a provincial government, in a development welcomed by the prime minister on Thursday as a historic moment for the nation's impoverished indigenous population.

Adam Giles was sworn in on Wednesday as government head of the Northern Territory, one of two Australian mainland territories which are largely treated as equals to the six states.

The 40-year-old former civil servant became leader in an internal coup within the ruling conservative Country Liberal Party while the former chief minister, Terry Mills, was in Japan on a business trip.

"I am truly humbled to be asked by my colleagues to ... undertake this role," Giles told reporters after a majority of his lawmaker colleagues elected him their party leader and chief minister.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who leads a centre-left Labour Party government, told Federal Parliament on Thursday that Giles' promotion deserved national recognition.

"This is a moment in history for indigenous Australians and it's appropriate that we mark it in this chamber," she said.

Indigenous legislators

Aborigines are a minority of only 600 000 in Australia's 23 million population. They are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, suffer poor health and lag behind in education.

Aborigines account for 30% of the Northern Territory's population, by far the highest proportion of any state or territory. Giles is a member of a parliament in which one in four lawmakers is indigenous.

In the Federal Parliament, there is just one Aborigine, Ken Wyatt, among 226 lawmakers, and he is among just three Aborigines to ever serve in that body. The major parties are embarrassed by the lack of indigenous legislators and have made some effort in recent years to recruit Aboriginal candidates.

Gillard, Australia's first woman prime minister has used her influence to ensure that the first Aboriginal woman will be elected to the Federal Parliament at elections on 14 September.

Gillard intervened in January to make Nova Peris, an Aborigine and Olympic gold medalist hockey player, her party's first choice for senator representing the Northern Territory.

Being listed as Labour’s first choice on the ballot paper places Peris in an unbeatable position.

Read more on:    julia gillard  |  australia

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