Australia gets first Aboriginal govt leader

Last updated 18:51 14/03/2013

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

Adam Giles was sworn in 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 Labor 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.

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. They die years younger than other Australians on average and are more likely to be imprisoned.

Aborigines account for 30 percent 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 Sept. 14.

Gillard intervened in January to make Nova Peris, an Aborigine and Olympic gold medallist hockey player, her party's first choice for senator representing the Northern Territory. Being listed as Labor's first choice on the ballot paper places Peris in an unbeatable position.

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- AP

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