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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1996

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (19:18): In these halls many comment that in the Territory we do things differently. This is true—it is our badge of honour. You cannot fit a square peg in a round hole; that is the way it has always been and I guess that is the way we like it. Many an Australian government has tried—some have succeeded but most have failed—to override the Territory and enforce their southern state policies. One of the most recent backfires for the Gillard Labor government was the coup that saw the end of the career of Senator Trish Crossin, a constituent of mine, with the installing of 'captain's pick' Nova Peris as the Labor Party's No. 1 Senate candidate in the Territory. Across my electorate of Solomon there was total outrage. I had staunch Labor voters declaring war against Prime Minister Gillard because of the way she had treated the Territory senator and Territorians with complete and utter contempt.

The Northern Territory is certainly a focal point for many. We are viewed as a place where the opportunities are endless. According to CommSec, compared to other jurisdictions the Northern Territory economy experienced economic growth of 35.4 per cent last year. The next closest jurisdiction was Western Australia, who experienced economic growth over 20 per cent less than the Territory, averaging 11.1 per cent across the year.

Not only do we have a strong economy; the Northern Territory labour market is growing at a solid pace. This is reinforced by CommSec, who stated that in 2012 the Northern Territory had the strongest job market in the country. Additionally, in the Northern Territory we have a relatively young and skilled workforce. According to the 2011 census, my electorate of Solomon has a median age of 32, while Australia wide it is 37.

This is all coupled with major projects, such as the INPEX-led Ichthys LNG project. There are significant investments across the Northern Territory, with the potential for more. These projects are generating significant employment opportunities across industries and the skills spectrum. The challenge for the Northern Territory will be to provide the workforce to meet the predicted growth requirements. My colleague the Hon. John Elferink MLA, the Attorney-General for the Northern Territory—who was here today in parliament—has shared with me some of his initiatives to assist with the potential skills shortage in the Northern Territory. He, like the rest of the Country Liberal members, understands the importance of creating opportunities for Territorians to provide a workforce that will meet the demands of these enormous projects coming to the Territory.

Tackling this issue head-on is a new initiative developed by the Country Liberal government, the Sentenced to a Job program, the Indigenous employment transition program. This program is run through the Northern Territory's Department of Correctional Services and is aimed at moving forward with a strong focus on employment to help break the cycle of reoffending, having recognised that there is a direct correlation between higher levels of education and employment and lower levels of crime. The information they provided me says that prisoner education and employment is the key to the program's success. Through this program, the Northern Territory government is determined to reduce reoffending and improve public safety through the provision of real jobs for prisoners.

The program, in partnership with local community and industry, will strive to achieve economic development for local communities in construction, horticulture and agriculture, mining, hospitality and tourism, with the objective of having around 400 prisoners with a job—to secure a future for themselves and their families by gaining a range of employment and vocational skills that will assist them to find meaningful and sustainable employment upon release. The increase in Indigenous participants in real jobs will reduce the rate of reoffending and support business and industry by providing a skilled workforce.

It is essential that federal funding through programs like the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory be more flexible so as to ensure that initiatives like the Sentenced to a Job program that are proven to work in the Northern Territory but may not necessarily work in, say, New South Wales or Victoria can be funded and implemented so that we can create real jobs for Indigenous people in our community.