Konstantine Vatskalis (born 4 April 1957) is a Greek-Australian politician. He was an Australian Labor Party member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly from September 2001 to October 2014, representing the Darwin-based electorate of Casuarina. He was Minister for Business and Economic Development, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Defence Support, Minister for Sport and Recreation, Minister for Essential Services, Minister for Health, Minister for Mines and Energy, Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries and Minister for Children and Families.
On 30 July 2014, Vatskalis announced that he would be resigning from the Legislative Assembly at the end of the August sittings, which triggered a 2014 Casuarina by-election.
In the 2017 local government elections in the Northern Territory, Vatskalis was elected Lord Mayor of Darwin.
Vatskalis was born in Greece, and studied public health in Athens. He became involved in student politics while there, becoming a student representative at the Athens Higher Vocational School and taking part in the 1970s pro-democracy protests, where he witnessed people being arrested for speaking freely. He married an Australian woman, Linda Cotton in 1982, and in 1983, they emigrated to Western Australia. Once they had arrived in Perth, Vatskalis found that his Greek qualifications were not recognised, and was forced to start again, beginning a degree in environmental health at Curtin University, where he also joined the Australian Labor Party. After graduating in 1985, he worked as an environmental health officer and surveyor in the Western Australian towns of Port Hedland and Wanneroo from 1986 to 1993. This period was also marked by personal tragedy, however; his wife died in 1988. In 1992, not long before leaving Western Australia, Vatskalis completed post-graduate studies this time in environmental science from Murdoch University.
In 1993, Vatskalis secured a job managing the NT Health Department's Darwin Environmental Health Unit, which meant relocating to the Northern Territory. He quickly became involved in Darwin's multicultural community, taking up a position hosting a Greek community radio show the same year, and going on to present a weekly nationwide Greek news segment on SBS Radio. Vatskalis also served a stint on the Northern Territory Police's Ethnic Advisory Committee.
Election to parliament
Vatskalis left the Environmental Health Unit in 1999, taking up a position at Danila Dilba, the indigenous health service in Darwin. However, this was to be short-lived, as he soon nominated for Australian Labor Party pre-selection to contest the seat of Casuarina at the 2001 election. Vatskalis was successful in gaining preselection, but was not widely expected to be elected. Not only had the ALP ever won Casuarina, but Vatskalis was facing incumbent MP and Arts, Sciences and Ethnic Affairs Minister Peter Adamson. However, in an unexpected result, a massive Labor wave swept through Darwin, allowing the party to win government for the first time ever. Notably, Labor took every seat in the northern portion of the capital—among them Casuarina, for the first time ever. Vatskalis took the seat on a swing of 13 percent.
Initial success as a minister
Though he had not even been tipped to win the seat, Vatskalis was immediately appointed to the ministry upon entering parliament, with new Chief MinisterClare Martin selecting him as her Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment, Housing, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs. He sparked brief controversies in October and November, when he oversaw the sale of a large public housing complex in Alice Springs and then attempts at compulsorily acquiring homes in Berry Springs, which were dumped after a public outcry.
Despite these hiccups, he was widely seen to be an effective minister, and was subsequently appointed to three additional portfolios—Transport, Infrastructure and Essential Services in a reshuffle on 16 November. He also began to win praise from several sectors over his handling of a number of issues, including opening up a large number of new housing blocks and both introducing speed limits on the Lasseter Highway and funding road repair projects in an attempt to curb the number of road deaths. He was also responsible for closing Darwin's Lake Leanyer after a coronial inquest into a death there. In February 2002, the Northern Territory News suggested that Vatskalis had "consistently been one of the Government's better performers", though they also criticised him for not appointing "new blood" to his departments. The usually conservative tabloid made similar comments in their report on the performance of the Martin ministry on the first anniversary of the election in August, suggesting that he had "impressed observers with his willingness to confront his new responsibilities."
Difficulties and demotion
It was around this point, however, where Vatskalis' initial positive stint ended, and he began to face serious difficulties in his position. He was criticised for the sacking without explanation of one of the Territory's most senior public servants, the head of the Parks and Wildlife Service, Dr Bill Freeland, and had recurring problems surrounding the planned gas plant at Wickham Point on Darwin Harbour. As the contracts had already been signed by the Burke Country Liberal Party government, Vatskalis had little choice but to continue supporting the construction of the gas plant, despite significant pressure from angry community groups. In October 2002, Vatskalis had to be placed under police protection when he received death threats from residents angry over a decision to approve the construction of a private school in a suburban street.
In January 2003, Vatskalis—allegedly unilaterally—banned flights over the Katherine Gorge, but was forced to remove the ban less than a month later after a public outcry. He also became embroiled in a nasty stoush with the taxi industry over planned reforms, clashed with environmentalists over land-clearing around the Daly River area, and was the subject of a damaging A Current Affair report over his handling of the impact on pastoralists from the Alice Springs–Darwin Railway. These controversies were amplified by a personal scandal in August 2003, when Vatskalis was found to be offering paid translation services over the internet while an MP. Not long after, the Northern Territory media reported a number of concerns about a taxpayer-funded trip taken by Vatskalis and Chief Minister Martin in August–September.
While he had also had some successes in this period, cracking down on antisocial behavior by youths in cars, forcing licenses upon the building industry after a series of scams, and attempting to convince the federal government to hand Kakadu National Park back to the NT government—a move soon supported by MPs on both sides of NT politics—the series of incidents throughout 2003 had severely tarnished Vatskalis' reputation.
December 2003 Ministerial reshuffle
In the December 2003 ministerial reshuffle sparked by the axing of Health Minister Jane Aagaard, Vatskalis was severely demoted, losing all his portfolios except Ethnic Affairs, and being given the new responsibilities of Mines and Energy and Primary Industries and Fisheries.
Although the reshuffle had seen Vatskalis demoted, the new portfolios allowed him to move away from the areas in which he had been under siege. In his new portfolio, he signed several new resource exploration permits and launched several programs attempting to promote the Northern Territory to mining companies, in the hope of boosting the industry. He launched a significant shakeup of mining laws, blocked proposals to create a second mine in the Kakadu National Park, and oversaw the proposal to clean up the environmental damage from the abandoned Mount Todd gold mine, near Katherine. In 2006 he instigated the "China and Japan Investment attraction strategy" targeting China and Japan for the Territory's mineral resources. He led a number of delegations to China and presented the Territory's mineral wealth to mining companies and investros in China. This led to the attraction of significant investment in the mining sector by Chinese companies making China the number 1 trade partner of the territory. The success of this strategy was highlighted by the 2010 Darwin visit of the then Vice President (and current President) of China Xi Jinping.Vatskalis also won favour from the recreational fishing community, banning commercial fishing in the Adelaide River and rejecting proposals to introduce fishing licenses in the Territory.
Vatskalis faced his first electoral test at the 2005 election, and despite having won the seat from the CLP for the first time ever in 2001, was easily elected with a massive swing in his favour, amidst a landslide result across the Territory. He comfortably retained the seat again in 2008, albeit with a 4.2% swing against him, but still holding a 14% majority.
Another cabinet reshuffle on 4 February 2009 saw Vatskalis take the Government's Health portfolio from Dr Chris Burns while remaining the Minister for Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources. In December 2009 he added the child protection portfolio to his duties.
The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet provides two kinds of news items: Indigenous health news and HealthInfoNet news.
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The HealthInfoNet is a very dynamic site, with new material being added on a daily basis. The changes are too numerous to be listed individually, but major and/or important additions are summarised in the HealthInfoNet news section.
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NAIDOC 2018 grant funding now open
7 March 2018Local grants are now open to support events and activities that celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as part of NAIDOC Week.
Travel grants available for the Australasian Diabetes Congress
5 March 2018This year, the Australian Diabetes Educators Association (ADEA) will provide five travel grants of $1,000 to five ADEA members to attend the Australasian Diabetes Congress (ADC) (formerly ADS-ADEA Annual Scientific Meeting) in Adelaide, South Australia.
Orthoptics Awareness Week
2 March 2018Orthoptics Awareness Week will be held Monday 5 to Friday 9 March this year to raise awareness of the work of orthoptics among the public and other health professionals.
New alcohol and drug support service launched in Townsville
1 March 2018Northern Queensland Primary Health Network (NQPHN), in collaboration with The Salvation Army, recently launched a new alcohol and drugs support service to help manage and reduce substance addiction across the Townsville region in Queensland.
Goodes wows NRL at Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander camp
1 March 2018Australian Football League (AFL) legend, Adam Goodes, has delivered an address to Aboriignal and Torres Strait Islander National Rugby League (NRL) players at an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander festival of rugby league.
Blindness from cataract is preventable
28 February 2018The team at the Fred Hollows Foundation have published a video showing what the Foundation is doing to improve Aboriginal health outcomes in Australia.
Retinal camera use clarified
28 February 2018The Department of Health has clarified the claiming arrangements for the new Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items 12325 and 12326 after data suggested that 1,594 patients have used the item in the past 13 months.
Turnover of Pilbara health staff focus of group
22 February 2018Attracting and retaining health professionals is a chronic problem in the Pilbara but it is hoped that could change through a set of new strategies focused on boosting capacity in the region rsquo;s health workforce.
Register now for NATSIHWA upcoming forums
19 February 2018The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association (NATSIHWA) have announced three statewide forums in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
$20 million boost for Aboriginal in-home-care
14 February 2018An organisation supporting the health and wellness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Kwinana and Rockingham in Western Australia has welcomed a $20 million tender aiming to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.
Hot North: funding for health research in Northern Australia
9 February 2018The Office of Northern Australia recently announced the commitment of Government funding, over four years, to a wide range of research projects concentrating on the health of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Children spread anti-drug word
8 February 2018A Mildura Aboriginal Corporation (MAC) initiative is building young people rsquo;s confidence to make safe life choices in Mildura, Victoria.
Over the counter sales of codeine halt
1 February 2018Doctors rsquo; groups are advising rural residents to talk to their General Practitioners (GPs) about pain management after changes to the availability of medicines containing codeine came into effect on Thursday, 1 February 2018.
Yidinji Elder, Henrietta Marrie, receives Order of Australia
29 January 2018Yidinji Elder, Henrietta Marrie, has been made a member of the Order of Australia for her significant service to the community as an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage and intellectual property rights, and to education.
Quitskills for maternal health workers in Cape York
25 January 2018Trainers from Cancer Council South Australia traveled from Adelaide to Kowanyama in Queensland in early January to deliver the training, Quitskills for Remote Communities Maternal Health Workers, to workers from Apunipima Cape York Health Council.
Basketball match promoting healthy choices
24 January 2018The Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia rsquo;s (SA) Puyu Blaster has hosted a basketball game with an important message for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Share your views on Closing the Gap
19 January 2018The Australian Government is calling on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide feedback on the future of Closing the Gap, the campaign to close key gaps in outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people.
New website launched on AOD treatment options in SA
12 January 2018A new website which aims to help people in South Australia (SA) to access alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment services was launched this week by the Hon Peter Malinauskas MLC, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
ReSet Consortium led by Wungening Aboriginal Corporation win justice tender to deliver reintegration services
21 December 2017A leading metropolitan Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, Wungening Aboriginal Corporation has led a Consortium comprising Centrecare Incorporated, Wirrpanda Foundation and St Bartholomew's House to secure a large portion of the Department of Justice's Adult Justice Services, including: Metropolitan Reintegration - Re-entry and Accommodation (men and women) Metropolitan Reintegration - Parenting and Family Support Services (men and women).
Call for immediate changes to alcoholic drink labelling
7 December 2017The Government of Western Australia has called for mandatory pregnancy health warnings on alcoholic beverages, and has warned against inaction on implementing effective mandatory labels is risking the health of unborn children.
Sol Bellear, great Elder and Aboriginal icon passes away
6 December 2017Sol Bellear, a Bundjalung man from Mullumbimby in New South Wales, will be remembered for helping to establish Aboriginal medical, housing, land rights and legal services and fighting for reform his whole life.
$9 million investment in community driven programs for Northern Rivers
7 November 2017The Indigenous Health Minister, Ken Wyatt, has announced $9.1 million in funding to community driven programs in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales (NSW), to tackle health challenges in the area, including substance use, mental health, suicide, and chronic disease.
Closing the gap strategy set for overhaul
24 October 2017The Federal Government is working on a major overhaul of the Closing the gap strategy, after concern over a lack of improvements in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
New research on smoking related deaths among Indigenous people
12 October 2017A new study led by the Australian National University (ANU) has found that smoking-related deaths among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are likely to continue to rise over the next decade, despite reductions in smoking rates.
Smoke-free success stories in Ramingining
6 October 2017Phase one of a project aiming to support householders in three Northern Territory (NT) communities to become smoke-free has uncovered many success stories.
Funding boost to help new AOD programs in WA
22 September 2017Three new alcohol and other drugs (AOD) programs will begin around the South West region of Western Australia (WA) next month, as part of additional funding received by Breakaway Aboriginal Corporation.
Support service as rehabilitation follow-up
18 September 2017A new program in Western Australia's (WA) Kimberley region aims to provide rehabilitation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who use substances, with a $1 million Commonwealth grant to support the initiative.
CATSINaM and University of Canberra join forces in advertising strategy survey
18 September 2017The University of Canberra and the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) have joined together to conduct an online primary research survey to gain insight into the key factors that motivated nurses and midwifes when considering joining an organisation.
Training boost for drug and alcohol treatment sector
14 September 2017Primary Health Tasmania has commissioned the Drug Education Network to build the capacity of the drug and alcohol treatment sector to provide care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.
East Pilbara young people to create community anti-smoking ads
13 September 2017Filmmakers will work with young people in four remote Aboriginal communities in the East Pilbara, Western Australia (WA), to shed light on the personal stories of local smokers and warn about the perils of the deadly habit.
Aboriginal community research initiative for Apunipima TIS program
5 September 2017Apunipima staff and community members have been participating in Aboriginal Community Researcher training, facilitated by Sharon Forrester, a Senior Aboriginal Researcher from the Tackling Indigenous Smoking National Best Practice Unit, Ninti One.
International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
9 August 2017Today is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, a day observed on 9 August each year as a global reminder of the importance of the rights of the world's Indigenous people.
New projects announced under the Pharmacy Trial Program
3 August 2017Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has announced two new trials under the Pharmacy Trial Program, which funds a number of trials to improve patient outcomes, and seeks to expand the role of pharmacy in delivering a wider range of primary healthcare services.
PHAIWA and Croakey launch the Twitter Challenge
2 August 2017The Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia (PHAIWA) and Croakey are challenging academics and researchers to join Twitter for a 30 day trial in an effort to get more key research messages disseminated throughout the sector.
Elder’s youth centre plea for Kalgoorlie-Boulder
26 July 2017As a peaceful protest took place Monday 24 July in Kalgoorlie following the death of one of the towns teenagers, Elder Trevor Donaldson called on Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to fast-track the proposed Aboriginal Youth Centre.
Conference Strengthens Indigenous Suicide Prevention
26 July 2017Leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people involved in tackling suicide have received Australian Government scholarships to enable them to attend this week rsquo;s National Suicide Prevention Conference.
NAIDOC Week rich with colour, ceremony
13 July 2017International basketball star Patrick Mills, who has reportedly signed a new $65 million contract with the San Antonio Spurs, was named Person of the Year at this year rsquo;s national NAIDOC Awards held in Cairns, Queensland (Qld).
Carbal leads the way for Indigenous health
4 July 2017As NAIDOC Week 2017 swings into celebration, Carbal Medical Centre in Warwick (Queensland) is at the front-line, keeping the Indigenous community fighting fit.
Streamlined support for Aboriginal Community Health Services
21 June 2017Federal Indigenous Health Minister, Ken Wyatt, has announced a new Network Funding Agreement, which will streamline the provision of $20 million a year in health service support through the National Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisation (NACCHO).
What is National Reconciliation Week?
27 May 2017Each year National Reconciliation Week (NRW) celebrates and builds on the respectful relationships shared by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
Today is National Sorry Day 2017
26 May 2017Today is National Sorry Day 2017 and events are taking place all over Australia to commemorate the Stolen Generations.