House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023



First Nations Voice Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 8 March 2023.)

The Hon. L.W.K. BIGNELL (Mawson) (11:58): I rise today to lend my support to the First Nations Voice Bill. I want to commend my good friend, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Attorney-General, the Hon. Kyam Maher, in another place for the amazing work that he has done.

I think when people look back at the history of South Australia and the work that the Parliament of South Australia has done over the years, Kyam Maher's name will be held up as one of the great champions of change in South Australia. As an Aboriginal man he has led the consultation, the discussions and the drive for us to reach a point where we can give Aboriginal people a voice in South Australia, a voice to the parliament, a voice to government, that will be heard and acted upon.

Kyam Maher did extraordinary work where other attempts had failed over the years to bring in the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill when we were in opposition. Leadership on important issues like this, leadership on emotive issues like these, takes great strength, takes great courage and it takes a stamina that few of us have. I look at all of my parliamentary colleagues: they all, on both sides, have heavy workloads, but when I look at Kyam Maher's work that he does in this parliament and on behalf of communities right around South Australia, I think he is an extraordinary man who has done an extraordinary job. We appreciate what he is doing now, but I think history will judge Kyam as one of the great leaders in South Australia's history.

Six years ago now the Uluru Statement from the Heart was delivered after widespread consultation and discussion. It is a very short statement but one filled with emotion, with a structure, a plan, for all Australians to walk with Aboriginal people, our First Nations people, in a way of improving the nation that we live in, a nation that cannot stand by for another year, another decade, and allow what has happened over the past 200 years since European settlement occurred to keep on going.

There needs to be change. We have tried things over recent decades, all aimed at improving things for our First Nations people in Australia, and still to our great shame as Australians we have a huge segment of our population, a really important segment of our population—those First Nations people—who die younger than the rest of the Australian community, are incarcerated at rates much higher than other Australians, are in juvenile detention centres and have worse health standards than the Australian average.

This is not something that goes unnoticed around the world. As Australians we like to take pride in being Aussies, the people who give everyone a fair go, the nation that is for everyone, yet when you go overseas and talk to people who have an interest in what is happening globally, they ask the question, which is a very difficult question to answer: why do we treat our First Nations people so poorly? This first struck me in the mid-1990s when I lived in Switzerland and made friends with people in Italy, Germany and right throughout Europe, and many of those people kept bringing up this issue. It followed the time of Hawke and Keating, who had done so much, and I would explain that to people, and they would still go, 'Yeah, but the problems haven't been fixed and the world is watching.'

It is to our shame as Australians that we have not done better over the years in looking after them. Some of the things we have tried to do to help have actually created the reverse impact. It has often been people in this place, with very few connections to Aboriginal people, who have been making decisions on behalf of these people about what their life should be, about what their conditions should be, without truly listening to the voices of those people who are most concerned.

I think when the First Nations people, who have been treated as poorly as they have for a couple of hundred years, come together and write a very articulate Statement from the Heart in 2017 and ask us to join them on the walk into the future, a walk that has First Nations people and all Australians walking as one, that is a very generous thing for them to do, to extend that offer to us.

Really, six years later, the fact that we have not given that voice at the federal level—and I am really hopeful that that happens later this year—is pretty sad, given the incarceration rates, the poor health sustained by Aboriginal people, all of these things that have not improved. The problems are still there and action needs to be taken.

We have a mandate to do that here in South Australia because we took this to the election last year, in March 2022. Kyam Maher, as our then shadow Aboriginal affairs spokesperson, and our then opposition leader, now Premier, Peter Malinauskas, took this to the election. So the South Australian people were left with no doubt whatsoever that if we were to win the election, we would be bringing this into parliament and hopefully bringing it into law, and that is to give the First Nations people in South Australia a voice, a voice that will be listened to.

Over the past almost year since we have been in government, discussions have been happening right throughout the state. I want to thank all of those people who were involved in those discussions to work out the importance of the Voice and how that would work and who would be a part of it. For people to say that there has not been enough consultation: there has been a lot of consultation.

On the day that this bill was introduced into the upper house, we had Aboriginal leaders from around the state in here at Parliament House, and you could see the joy on their faces and the tears rolling down their cheeks—and, I must admit, I had tears rolling down my own cheeks—at what was a pivotal moment in South Australia's history. These people have been fighting forever to have their voices heard, and here, finally, people in this place had invited them in to see the introduction of that bill. I am hoping that in a few Sundays' time, we will have people from across the entire South Australian community come here to bear witness to this Voice actually being enacted and taken over to Government House to receive the assent from the Governor.

We all have our own personal stories about what has influenced us in life and what has helped inform us on various aspects of our lives. I can only speak from my own personal experiences about the context that First Nations people have played in my life. I am almost ashamed to say that I have had very little interaction with Aboriginal people. I grew up on a dairy farm in the South-East where we had one Italian family, the Prosperi-Porta family, who had about five kids, and that was about as culturally different as anything we had in our small dairy farming community.

The multiculturalism down there was Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English. The Boandik people had been pretty much wiped out by those early settlers. I trace my own family back to the Buffalo with my great-great-great-grandfather, James Harvey, coming out on the Buffalo as a 19 year old. He built the first wagon wheels in the new colony. He had land at Glenelg that he swapped because he wanted to find gold at Prospect Hill. He moved to Prospect Hill. I do not think he found any gold. He had 16 kids with his wife and farmed. They would walk down the hill to McLaren Flat and pick grapes in those early days of the colony. That was on my dad's side.

On my mum's side, my great-grandfather lost his dad as a seven year old and his mum remarried a Hogan. He was a Kennedy, but his mum remarried a fellow called Hogan and they migrated from Tipperary to the South-East and had land just out of Mount Gambier. In their writings, they wrote about the challenges of clearing the land of vegetation, kangaroos and natives. We know there were massacres right through those early colonial years in South Australia and we cannot shy away from that, just like civilisations around the world cannot shy away from bad things that happened in their communities. We can ask forgiveness and we can say sorry, but we cannot shy away from those things.

We also cannot let this imbalance in our society, where we share this beautiful country with the oldest continually living civilisation that goes back at least 60,000 years, continue for another day, another week, another month or another year, let alone for another decade or another century. We have to own up to the fact that things are out of whack here and that we have one part of our community that is terribly overrepresented in all the worst statistics that are possible and underrepresented in the places where we should be having more First Nations people. We should be celebrating them.

I want to read a few lines from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As I said, I think it is a very generous document. It is a document that asks all of us to walk together, but it comes from the First Nations' perspective. It says:

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are [alienated] from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

I think all Australians should share that sentiment and allow the people who have written this Statement from the Heart and all those who they represent to flourish. It goes on:

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.

It is a pretty good point. It is their country that they have called home for 60,000 years. They are just asking for a voice in their country. It continues:

When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Obviously, that is what has to happen at the federal level. Here, we have one less barrier: we do not have to have the referendum, but we do have to have a majority in both houses to get this up. It continues:

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

It is asking for fairness in a nation where we always believe in everyone getting a fair go. I find it hard, having read that statement many times over the past six years, to find anything really controversial in there, anything that we would not necessarily agree with. I have been buoyed by the fact that so many people in my community, so many South Australians, are actually taking the attitude of, 'Why wasn't this done a lot earlier? Why would we stand in the way of listening to First Nations people and actually doing what they want for their people and for our country?' I commend everyone for pulling together the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I think it is a lesson in concise communication and something where the point is so clearly and well made.

I mentioned before the fact that for a lot of Australians we have had very few interactions with Aboriginal people. Growing up in the South-East, the first Aboriginal people I saw were brought to our school from the APY lands, because our principal had been working up in Ernabella. His name was David Tassell. He brought these Aboriginal people down and they taught us songs. They taught us how to play the didgeridoo, and they taught us how to play the sticks. My sisters and I still remember the songs and the rhythms and the wonderful sense of enlightenment that we got as six, seven, eight-year-old kids from that trip organised by David Tassell.

But I did not see Aboriginal people in our community. I remember being about 10, looking along the pew at church and seeing a young Aboriginal kid there, who may have been adopted or something like that, but that was it. Throughout my life, at school, in the workplace, the first colleague that I have worked with who is a First Nations person is Kyam Maher.

When he went off to the APY lands to do business a few years ago, it all happened pretty quickly for us. Obviously, he knew that something was happening. He was going to get the call when the time was right, and then he was gone. I was talking to Uncle Moogy, to all the Aboriginal leaders that we now know and work so closely with, and every time I would see one of them I would be going, 'Is Kyam going to be alright?' They would say, 'He will come back, and he can't tell you what happened when he did business.' This is a big part of his life, and I felt bad that I had so little understanding of what Aboriginal culture is all about.

As a said at the outset, of all the people in this place, I have the most admiration for Kyam Maher and for everything that he goes through. He has added layers that none of us ever have to deal with. We all have busy workloads, but Kyam has this sense of duty that is palpable, that you can sense coming out of him, this sense of duty for his people, to lead them to a better future: a future where we have a lower incarceration rate, where we have health results and health standards that are the same for First Nations people as they are for the rest of the Australian population.

When we go overseas and when we welcome visitors to our country, I think we should be in a much better place, a place where we can be proud about where we are headed and where we are in terms of the way we treat First Nations Australians. I have not always been able to say that I am proud of that, for many of the things that are historic but also for some of the things that are reasonably recent. As legislators in this place, it is beholden on all of us to listen to the community and do the work that they want done to make South Australia a fairer place and a better place for all South Australians.

Mr TELFER (Flinders) (12:19): I stand in this place as the member for Flinders, which is a diverse electorate that is physically very distant from this place and one that has Aboriginal communities across its lands, including some very remote ones. Upon reflecting on some of the contributions to this bill, can I note that I am not aiming to be politically adversarial on this item. I want to be matter-of-fact about my opinion that this is poor legislation that will not deliver real, positive outcomes for my community. From my perspective, positive outcomes for our Aboriginal population should be the most important aim with Indigenous policies.

This issue really is above politics. Whatever party you are representing, you have a genuine interest in seeing improvement in this area. It is something that governments have struggled with on both sides for many years, at both the state and the federal level. I think the Australian public has a right to be disappointed in the progress of improvement and the significant gaps in practical outcomes between our Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

Some of the examples of these have been articulated already through some of the contributions. One of these is education outcomes: giving our young Aboriginal kids opportunities to achieve better social, economic and wellbeing outcomes through education. I see it from examples across schools across Eyre Peninsula and the West Coast. Another is health outcomes: the life expectancy gaps are unacceptable and deeply upsetting, and health outcomes play a significant part in that. I see that playing out in my electorate as well, with the Aboriginal health services doing good work amongst the population.

Regarding incarceration rates, as has been mentioned, the terrible fact is that our Aboriginal population are over-represented in detention. The supports for our young people, in particular, to help them navigate life to avoid such situations are so important. Once again, I see that clearly within my electorate. I can understand why the government may want to make a significant change, with the deficiencies that are happening currently, but I do not believe this bill will achieve anything practical for my Indigenous community.

The First Nations Voice Bill 2023, which we are debating, seeks to establish an elected body of Indigenous South Australian representatives, known colloquially as the State Voice to Parliament. This Voice will formally interact with our parliament and state government, including receiving notification of the introduction of every bill to state parliament and being given the opportunity to address either chamber, although not both, with regard to any given bill.

The Voice will be required to deliver an annual report and to address members at a joint sitting of state parliament each year, and to ensure that the issues raised therein are considered. A response to the report must be provided by the minister, including detail as to whether any action has been or will be taken. Required meetings will take place between both the Voice and the cabinet, with briefings held for the Voice by chief executives of every government department at least twice yearly, where any matter of interest can be discussed. As stated by the Attorney-General in the other place, this direct access to government will provide Indigenous people with the ability to influence decision-making at the highest possible level in South Australia.

I am sure there are the best intentions around the development of this bill from those who might see the challenges that are faced by the Aboriginal community and seek to provide a solution. As I said, I am not being adversarial. This is an admirable thing and it is what is expected of us by those from our communities who have elected us.

There is no doubt that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face very serious challenges that cannot be ignored, and I do not believe they have been. I was interested to read some of the data from the Australian Productivity Commission's series of reports entitled Indigenous Expenditure Report, with reports delivered in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2017. These reports highlight to me that indeed our decision-makers at the political level have been investing significant expenditure into the challenges. The 2017 report, in particular, which is the most recent one that is publicly available, states about expenditure estimates in 2015-16 that:

The total direct expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians was estimated to be $33.4 billion.

To quote again:

On average, direct expenditure per Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian ($44 886) is around twice the direct expenditure per non-Indigenous Australian ($22 356).

It is entirely reasonable, I think, to say that all sides of politics have taken this issue very seriously over many years, and have made repeated, ongoing and genuine efforts via policy positions, very substantial funding allocations, and other practical steps to address Aboriginal disadvantage in South Australia and, more broadly, across our nation.

The success of these measures is able to be debated, obviously, but what cannot be are the genuine focus on and the attempts to address Aboriginal disadvantage that they represent. The myriad organisations, both government and non-government, that are responsible in this area reflect this, and there is no greater example than that within my electorate covering Eyre Peninsula and the West Coast.

The question is then: what can be done better? The perspective put from the government is that the Voice, as it is has been called, will do this. Anyone who has watched Indigenous policies throughout the decades would know that the concept of an overarching body which can speak for Indigenous Australians is not a new one. It has been tried a number of times and, unfortunately, it has failed a number of times.

When I talk to my Indigenous friends and constituents, I get asked, 'How will this be different?' How can one small group of people somehow speak on behalf of Indigenous peoples and communities from across our vast state? Even in my electorate, the diversity of views and perspectives vary so much between the Barngarla, the Wirangu, the Nauo, the Mirning, and the same with peoples across the state. I worry that the structure which is put together within this legislation actually creates more division than it fixes. It can potentially widen the gap between those that have and those that have not.

Our system of government is built on equality of representation. As a democracy, any citizen can put up their hand to be elected to represent their community within parliament, and it truly is a privilege to do so. We all have the opportunity for this equal voice within our society, and those who are elected have the immense responsibility to be representing all their constituents the best they can.

This change, I believe, set out within this legislation, adds inequality and disruption. I believe that all people are created equal, and should be treated as such, and it is our responsibility as elected officials to create a society where equality of opportunity is something we should absolutely strive for. I know there is genuine emotion and care, which has been put into this process, but I believe this legislation is fundamentally flawed and, although well intended, will not deliver the positive outcomes for my community that such a piece of legislation should. Although it is not something I do lightly, I will not be supporting the bill.

The Hon. S.C. MULLIGHAN (Lee—Treasurer) (12:27): It gives me great pleasure to rise to make a contribution on the First Nations Voice Bill. I think the Premier has articulated the prospect of this bill passing both houses of parliament really well in saying that this is a really significant milestone for the South Australian parliament and for the governance of our state. It is a remarkable change that this bill will see in terms of how our parliament and our community engages with First Nations people and, I think, one which not only makes sense but you could comfortably say is also long overdue.

We have all separately in our own ways come to arrive at views about how well our community provides for First Nations people, and we have heard many contributions so far on how perhaps over-represented First Nations people may be in our criminal justice system, how poorly served they seem to be through our structures and services with regard to the health system and comparative health outcomes, life expectancy outcomes, and their capacity to achieve economic and social opportunity.

This is not something that is new or newly recognised. This is something that we have been aware of and struggling with and trying different ways of tackling for decades. While, yes, there have been some pleasing examples and areas of progress, I do not think anyone can credibly say that progress has been swift or timely or significant enough to ensure that First Nations Australians are getting equal access and equal opportunity to economic and social participation in our community.

All of us should consider that situation as completely unacceptable—completely unacceptable. It seems to me that, perhaps in a similar vein to how the member for Mawson reflected on this in his own experience, I consider this bill and I make my comments on this bill from a position where I have not had the benefit of extensive and longstanding interactions with First Nations Australians or Aboriginal South Australians throughout the course of my life. It has principally only been through my roles in government previously and also now as a member of parliament that I have had the fortune of those experiences.

Through that relatively and comparatively brief experience compared to some of my colleagues in this place on all sides of the chamber, even though I have had that comparatively limited engagement, it is absolutely and abundantly clear to me that the current arrangement by which we hear First Nations Australians, that we give Aboriginal South Australians the opportunity to engage with us, to engage with our parliament and to strive for improvements generally in their lives, is not working well. It is not working well, and the outcomes speak for themselves.

If you cast your mind back through the decades, there seems to be the same situation, albeit in different contexts, which arises from time to time, where there seems to be a sudden recognition of the plight and the social and economic disadvantage of First Nations Australians, or particular communities within a state or within the nation, that draws the attention of the public and of the media. There is a flurry of media reporting, a flurry of public interest and an urgency for decision-makers to do something about this situation. There are announcements of action, there are commitments of new resources, and the attention inevitably ebbs away, and the media and public focus move on.

It happens time and time again. Even in recent memory, even in the last 20 years, we have seen that with the previous Howard government's intervention. We saw a different approach here under the previous Rann government of a much greater involvement and investment in resources in the APY lands to combat some of the plights of the communities there and some of the social dysfunction and dislocation that was occurring there—the poor health outcomes, the poor opportunities for economic participation—and this seems to happen cyclically. Even in recent weeks, we have seen the plight of communities around Alice Springs reach national attention and the urgency for the Northern Territory and the commonwealth governments to step in and do something there. These problems seem persistently unresolved.

We had the effort from the previous Rudd commonwealth government to really promote the Closing the Gap initiative, where not only would there be additional resources provided across a range of different service delivery areas, but importantly there would be a focus on collecting data and reporting on outcomes for First Nations Australians across a whole range of areas, across a whole range of different areas of government service delivery, for example. That, I think, was approximately 15 years ago—I think in 2008 the effort was really made and the agreements reached between state and territory governments with the commonwealth for not only the additional resources and the framework but the reporting against it. That continues today.

There may well have been pockets of progress over the last 15 years. I do not mean to decry all of the efforts that have been made under that particular initiative since then, because extraordinary effort and extraordinary resources have been put in, but I do not think we can credibly say that we have significantly and demonstrably improved overall those economic and social outcomes for the recipients of that effort.

I think part of the problem is a dislocation between what the actual experience of First Nations Australians is and the considerations and the decisions that get made by people in positions of decision-making authority, whether it is members of parliament considering and passing legislation or whether it is governments of the day and ministers in positions considering submissions and funding requests for additional initiatives and so on. With that in mind, I think that providing a further but much better opportunity for direct engagement with the South Australian parliament for Aboriginal South Australians makes absolute sense.

For many people in the broader community who perhaps have not had the opportunity to see the bill or have it explained to them as to what the process will be of establishing the framework by which Aboriginal South Australians will be able to elect their regional Voices and how the statewide Voice will be able to engage with the state parliament, I can understand why in some areas of the community there is some trepidation that some people may be seen to get particular access to the parliament that other people may not. But I do not think that that is a fair way of representing what we are considering here.

Think of the counterfactual. Think of the benefits of particular cohorts of our society that have enjoyed unfettered access to the parliament and all of the benefits that have come with it. While it is gradually changing—for example, I think the former Deputy Premier referred to a particular cohort of the community or a particular demographic as another 'old stale male', which used to almost exclusively populate the benches in this place up until recent times—I do worry that there is a persistent mindset in some areas of the community who think that there is one group of South Australians who are going to gain further and better access to the parliament than other groups, and that just simply is not the case. That just simply is not the case.

There has also been a concern that there will be a third chamber of the parliament, that there will be another decision point that motions and bills will have to pass through in order to be formally approved. That is also absolutely not the case. Indeed, I think many members have made the contribution that they have had constituents come up to them, raising issues or concerns with the proposed Voice to the South Australian parliament and, on having a better understanding of how it is going to work, those constituents feel a bit more comfortable with it.

But I am concerned that we still have the opposition that, at this point, remains opposed to this bill. Of course, we should all arrive at our conclusions based on the information that we have and what we think is in the best interests of the parliament. But I do remain concerned that, to me at least, there does not seem to be a well-articulated motivation for opposing this bill because to oppose the bill accepts the status quo, and to accept the status quo means to accept the decades of failure that we persist with in trying to provide equal social and economic opportunity here in South Australia for Aboriginal Australians, and that to me is completely unacceptable.

Should the legislation be passed, I know that when in the future I stand before this place as Treasurer and hand down a budget, I will be for the first time under this regime subject to the views of the Voice's representatives in this place, and that will be an additional level of scrutiny. I assume that at times that is going to be uncomfortable. I assume that it will be challenging. 'Why has the government not invested more resources into this particular area?' 'Why has the government taken this particular approach with this particular initiative?' 'Did you consider how it may affect the people that I represent?' These, for example, may be some of the representations that are made.

While it may feel uncomfortable for, if not me, then a future treasurer from either major party in South Australia, that scrutiny should be welcome because I think when we are put in these positions of taking significant decisions then we should be cognisant of how different groups in the community are going to be affected by those decisions. We should be prepared to explain or to justify the decisions that we take and to be cognisant of the impacts that our decisions are expected to have out in the community.

We have done that as a parliament. Indeed, I am looking across at fellow members on both sides of the chamber, even in the last session of the parliament where we considered a number of really significant, weighty matters of conscience where I am sure we had all been separately, individually, collared by our constituents saying, 'Why on earth did you decide that? Why on earth did you vote in that particular way?' We should welcome that scrutiny.

But it is not just about scrutiny of the decisions that we make. The regime is not just commentary on a bill which has already had its drafting instructions approved by cabinet, which has already been drafted by parliamentary counsel and all but finalised for consideration in this place and presented here. It is also the engagement with executive government, with chief executives and ministers outside of the parliament, which I think is also important and should be welcomed. Before we get to the point of bringing a bill into this place, I really do think that having the opportunity to engage with a Voice and their representatives about what is being done, or what is not being done, or what is being proposed to be done, will better inform us, and hopefully that will mean better decisions.

I do encourage, particularly those opposite who are opposed to this bill, to quite genuinely and seriously reflect on what the parliament will be missing out on, and what they potentially in the future as key decision-makers will be missing out on, in the absence of this Voice. If the view is that we as a parliament do not need to hear the representations that the Voice is going to make, or that they do not need the engagement with First Nations Australians that the Voice as constituted in this bill is going to provide us, then I simply do not agree with that view, and I simply do not agree with the basis of the view that we have already got enough, that there is nothing or there is only little to be gained by further engagement or further constructive dialogue with the Voice. I just do not accept that at all.

I have heard some of the contributions made by members opposite about, again, their concerns that they feel that this gives a prioritised opportunity for engagement with the parliament or an exclusive opportunity for engagement with the parliament that others do not have. Again, I would encourage them to reflect on whether that is merely a red herring or a strawman argument, which has been put up by people who are really just fundamentally against, perhaps for their own reasons, wanting to improve the lot of First Nations Australians.

As I was at pains to articulate earlier, I really do think once people understand how this works they will see that this is not some unreasonable or exclusive leg-up or access to key decision-makers that other members of the community do not have.

I would like to finish on this note: without wanting to start a party political rumination on the difference between our two major parties, my understanding of the Liberal Party is that it is based in the values of small 'l' liberalism and freedom of the individual. To the extent, in general terms, that they pursue that as a basis for their ideology, I understand where that comes from and I understand what motivates it.

I do worry, though, that at times on different issues of policy, it can run the risk of manifesting itself as a reflection on their own individual opportunity, thinking that things have worked out alright for them and that if things could work out okay for them, despite their upbringing, despite whatever hardships or grievances they may have had in their own backgrounds, it then informs the view, 'Well, I've done alright, given the cards that I was dealt. What's your excuse?' or 'What's their excuse?' It gets used as a basis for justifying a decision not to make the additional effort, not to provide additional initiatives or resources in order to address long overdue social and economic disadvantage.

I look across the chamber and I see many who are genuinely motivated to leave the South Australian community in a far better place than when they first came into this place, taking the decisions that are necessary to improve the lot of all South Australians. This is genuinely one of those opportunities. I really do hope that those opposite, when they are thinking about whether they support this bill or not, reflect on: are they going to be better off or are they going to be at a loss, depending on the passage of this bill? I know that First Nations Australians, and Aboriginal South Australians in particular, are going to be much better off with the passage of this bill.

Mr HUGHES (Giles) (12:47): I also rise to express my very strong support for this bill. In doing so, like many others, I want to acknowledge the work over many years of Kyam Maher. The effort that he has gone to to bring this to the parliament has been something that has been outstanding to see. He will be recognised for the efforts he has made.

In those efforts, he has been supported by a lot of other people. The work that Dale Agius has done as the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement has been exemplary. The work around consultation, the work around listening to communities, the work around going back to communities to verify what he has heard and the iterative fair process that was entered into—Dale deserves a lot of credit for that process, as does Roger Thomas, whose longstanding advocacy for the Aboriginal people of this state is commendable. Indeed, he was engaged to start, if you like, a process of looking at the Voice in this state, so he needs to be recognised as well.

The people who need full recognition are often the people who do not get it. All those people throughout our state who took part in the process offered up their suggestions, answered their questions, provided their input, provided their general knowledge and provided their local knowledge when it came to shaping the bill that is before the house. This has been an effort that has taken time, and it was important that it did take time, in terms of the consultation process and the eventual build-up that was arrived at, having that out there for further comment.

Everyone is not always going to be happy. There will be some people in the Aboriginal community who will have criticism and might not even support having a Voice at all. Certainly the impression in communities I move in is that there is strong support for this direction.

It is interesting to reflect back upon history. I was not born in this country. I came out to what was a booming industrial community at the time, and my dad made an explicit decision not to go to South Africa because of the explicit racism that was at the fore in that country. In fact, it was deeply part of the whole governance structure in that nation as expressed through apartheid. Indeed, we did drop off in South Africa on the way out to Australia and I was given my first lesson about racism and how he, as a Glaswegian with a strong commitment to an egalitarian ethos, found it abhorrent.

It was interesting coming to Australia. We came after the 1967 referendum. I would have to say that during all my schooling, Aboriginal people were hardly mentioned. It is worth reflecting on the 1967 referendum because it was one of those important steps, as a result of campaigning by activists and others over the years, that overwhelmingly the Australian people supported that referendum. Over 90 per cent of the vote said, yes, Aboriginal people should count. Ultimately, Aboriginal people got the vote.

It is interesting to reflect that prior to that, Aboriginal people did not count in the Census. They were virtually part of the flora and fauna, if you like. They did not count, they did not have the vote and they were not counted as citizens of this country. The people who have lived here for 60,000 years were treated in a manner that was absolutely appalling.

The impact of those years does cascade down through the generations: the structural problems and the issues around colonial conquest—all those things in one form or another are still with us today. It has been a long struggle to attempt to improve, often slowly improve: sometimes two steps forward and one step back. To move forward at times has been very frustrating, especially when we continue to look at all the gaps that exist. It is interesting the word 'gap' is used because, as some people have said, when it comes to some of the measures comparing the Aboriginal population of Australia to the general European descendants and others in this country, there is not a gap in places: on some measures it remains an absolute chasm.

As I said, when I came to Australia we knew hardly anything about Aboriginal people. I can only recall one reference in the classes that I attended in late primary and high school in Australia to an Aboriginal person and that person, whatever his name was, was referred to as Jackey Jackey, someone who accompanied an explorer who found whatever area that he was exploring. That was the nature of the educational instruction that a lot of people, especially older people, received in Australia when it came to Aboriginal history. Of course there would never be any mention of the initial contact and what flowed on from there. That did not come to the fore until many years later.

The other big decision that was made in the High Court was the Murray Islands decision, what became known as the Mabo decision, Mabo v Queensland. The Queensland government never over many, many years covered itself in glory when it came to its treatment of Aboriginal people, but that decision was an incredibly powerful one.

It was that decision that overturned the legal fiction, the actual legal reality when you go back, of terra nullius: that this was an empty continent. Of course it was not, given it was inhabited by the people that had the oldest continuous culture in the world. In that finding, it said that the people of the Murray Islands:

…are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of [most] of the lands of the Murray Islands.

That was an incredibly important decision. Indeed, there was the decision and then the whole legislative push around the native title and the controversy. Once again, elements in this nation—you could say it is all part of democratic debate—organisations, individuals and some political parties did not cover themselves in glory. They argued that native title would cause the sky to come crashing down.

I went to some of those meetings in the lead-up to the enactment of the legislation and some of the vitriol coming from some of the pastoralists was absolutely disgraceful. The mining industry back then did not cover itself in glory, either, arguing that it was going to be an absolute disaster, but it did not turn out that way. With this debate now—not so much here in South Australia but the national debate—we have elements of this sneaking in, in addition to some really crass political opportunism.

When I was growing up in Whyalla I hardly knew any Aboriginal people. Once I got into my twenties and thirties that changed somewhat, but when you look back on those years, in the Whyalla community the Barngarla people who lived there were very small in number and this was a massive immigrant community.

I can only recall one Aboriginal woman who I went to high school with and that was Ann Croft, who went on to become a nurse. Tragically, her life was cut short due to a car accident. There was a young man, an Aboriginal man, who was famous in Whyalla and respected in Whyalla. In some ways, he epitomises the story of some of our Aboriginal people when it comes to lives tragically cut short. It is one thing to die in an accident, but with Buddy Newchurch, he was a 16 year old when he was spotted playing soccer by one of the spotters from Chelsea in the UK—not my team—but an incredibly notable team nonetheless. He was spotted; he was a left-footed midfielder and a brilliant player.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Odenwalder): Before the member waxes further lyrical about the Chelsea Football Club, do you seek leave to continue your remarks?

Mr HUGHES: I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 13:00 to 14:00.