House of Assembly: Thursday, March 23, 2023



First Nations Voice Bill

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Mr Speaker, I bring your attention to the state of the house.

A quorum having been formed:

Third Reading

The Hon. P.B. MALINAUSKAS (Croydon—Premier) (12:00): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Over the course of the last couple of days, we have seen a rather thoughtful and historic debate in this place on this exceptionally important bill in the life of South Australia, particularly for the Indigenous community. I thank all members who contributed and look forward to the third reading contributions.

Mr TEAGUE (Heysen) (12:01): As members know, the committee stage of the bill was undertaken over the last two sitting days and concluded at the end of sitting yesterday. I commend the process, as I would do regularly. The committee stage, I hope, will elucidate, for the medium term, matters of substance that characterise the difference between the Liberal opposition's view in relation to the bill and the reasons for its opposition, and the alternatives in terms of engagement to the parliament that have been long on the public record, including of course the bill that was before the last parliament, the Aboriginal Representative Body Bill of 2021, introduced by the then Premier Marshall in his capacity as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

I do now, as I did at the time that I reintroduced that bill not quite a year ago, pay tribute to the work of the member for Dunstan, who, as Premier, took responsibility for the portfolio as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs throughout his time as Premier of South Australia, and his dedicated engagement with—and I will single out just two—the South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council, with whom he was frequently engaged, seeking views and exchanging views, seeking counsel and working towards improvement, and secondly and relevantly for the purposes of this debate, the work led by then Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Professor Roger Thomas, whose work has been the subject of reflection in the course of the debate on that bill in 2021 and 2022, and, again, in the course of the committee stage on this occasion.

So that there can be no confusion or doubt about that matter, the views about a model of engagement, a model of reform towards improved engagement and improved outcomes, has been long on the public record, and reflecting the sincere and considered work of the former Premier, the Aboriginal Advisory Council and, as I have indicated, Professor Roger Thomas.

But we are where we are, and we have made it clear that we oppose the bill because it provides for a bad model, a poor model, that will be—particularly in terms of the form of engagement with the parliament—almost necessarily incoherent with the process of parliament. In that sense, as the Unit of Public Policy at the University of Adelaide among many others have observed, it renders that form of engagement unambitious in circumstances where a more productive model of engagement via a meat and potatoes process of work with a dedicated committee is a matter that is well and truly on notice to the government.

As I say, we are where we are, and I want to be certainly, if not the first to acknowledge, among those who would make the plain observation that as we conduct ourselves in this space there is inevitably learning to be done. There is inevitably improvement that can be made over the course of what I hope will be a pathway towards going somewhere new together. That is what is necessary. I have been fairly emphatic about it in the committee stage to say, 'When you've got a better model available, and you choose to go down another path, well, that's the choice that the government has made.'

Now, having said all that, I want in my brief remarks at this third reading stage to pick up and to repeat and thank the Hon. Dennis Hood for his remarks in another place not so very long ago. Dennis Hood made the observation in his third reading contribution in another place—he made it very clear—that he, like me, like all of us on this side, opposes the bill, and that remains our position. But he said, and I endorse, that it is clear to see that the government has the numbers. It has the numbers in this place and the bill will pass. I maintain that it ought to do so in an orderly way. There is plenty of opportunity for that to occur today in the course of the ordinary parliamentary sitting day today, and I understand that that is not the government's intention. But it will pass, and it will pass shortly.

I want to make clear that for me it is and remains my intention to support the outcome and to get behind the process. It is not my preferred model, and that has been made clear in a whole variety of ways, but I also emphasise, as Dennis did, that the disagreement here is about the way of achieving what we all want, which is improved outcomes for our Aboriginal people in the state of South Australia. They have no doubt faced very difficult circumstances, and they have not had the improvements that all of us have sought to see over a substantial period of time now.

It is with that very much in mind that, as legislators here in the parliament, if we are embarking upon an exercise endeavouring to achieve improvement that we do so with an attitude that is characterised by humility and with respect and with diligence and that we make sure that the product of our work in this place actually holds out the prospect of improvement in those circumstances of longstanding that are well known.

We almost have a model, and I want to emphasise again to those members of our Aboriginal community in South Australia: I am not an Aboriginal person and I seek to work with, to engage and to better understand. I will put my shoulder to the wheel. I do not believe this is the right model; it is not the right approach, but I will support it and I will do all I can as one individual member in here and as the member of our party with responsibility for improvement in this portfolio area to do all I can to ensure its success.

The Hon. S.S. MARSHALL (Dunstan) (12:11): I rise to speak at the third reading of this important piece of legislation which the government has brought to this chamber. I am always pleased when there is any piece of legislation or any debate or any contribution that involves Aboriginal affairs here in this place.

We have a huge amount of work to do. There is no doubt about that, but South Australia has historically been a leader in terms of Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation and we have had many highlights. We have also had many lowlights. I think of the original legislation for the Aboriginal Lands Trust brought here by former Premier Don Dunstan, the member for Norwood. This was fantastic leading legislation. I think of the work of Dr David Tonkin, when he was the Premier of South Australia, with the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act.

We were the first place in the country to apologise to the stolen generation. That was the work of Dean Brown, former Premier of South Australia. In fact, we did that 11 years before the federal parliament got around to apologising to the stolen generation. This is a very, very difficult area of public policy. It is not for the faint-hearted. It is one of the reasons why I took on this important portfolio when we came to government.

Too often, the very important area of Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation is left to a junior minister in government but, in fact, this area of public policy requires the entire cabinet working together. When I was the Premier and therefore Chair of cabinet I took it upon myself to develop a whole-of-government action plan which still remains in place today. Every single minister, I believe, has a responsibility to advance the cause of reconciliation and practical outcomes for Aboriginal South Australians.

Whilst we are reflecting on some firsts, I would like to remind the parliament of the very origins of democracy in South Australia, where at our very first democratic elections in here after we had responsible government, Aboriginal South Australians had the same voting rights commensurate with the white settlers. This is extraordinary. In fact, they only lost those rights in 1901 when we became a country and at the time of Federation it was determined that Aboriginal Australians would not be added to the roll. They were not added to the roll again until 1967 but, importantly and I think proudly, all of those Aboriginal South Australians who were on the roll at the time of Federation remained on the roll. So we had the unique situation in South Australia—not just with women but with Aboriginal South Australians—that they remained on the roll for the rest of their lives. The next tranche did not come until 1967, much to our shame as Australians.

There is a huge amount of work to be done. When we were in government, we moved to establish an Aboriginal representative body, which built on the work of the South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council, which had served our state well, but new models need to be determined. Of course, we now have a further model in front of the parliament at the moment. I am pleased that we are having these discussions.

Obviously, I did support the work that had been done by the former Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Dr Roger Thomas, and the work that he had done to establish the model that was ultimately presented to my cabinet and therefore this parliament. I think he did extraordinarily useful work—2½ years of consultation—which he presented as the first Aboriginal voice on the floor of this parliament in our history.

It was a proud day for us and a day when the former Speaker, the member for Heysen, agreed to fly the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag in this chamber for the very first time. We did this without debate or rancour, as has occurred in other jurisdictions, which I think speaks to the sophistication and also the great sense of responsibility that we have here in South Australia.

For the rest of my time on this earth, I will certainly be one who will argue and advocate for practical responses to the situation that we have—Closing the Gap, as it is now referred to—on a national basis. I certainly will be doing everything I can for practical and ongoing reconciliation. When this piece of legislation ultimately passes, which it most certainly will, I will be one who does what I can to practically see it implemented and of course be a success.

With those words, I am very grateful that we are discussing these important matters. Sometimes we will disagree on the precise way in which we can practically develop this response. Time will tell, so let's see what happens, but I certainly, once this does ultimately pass—I cannot be here on Sunday because of a prior engagement—will be doing everything I can to make sure that this piece of legislation is ultimately a success for the Aboriginal people of South Australia.

The Hon. P.B. MALINAUSKAS (Croydon—Premier) (12:17): I rise to close the debate. I thank the member for Heysen and the member for Dunstan for their contributions. I would also like to acknowledge at this point the member for Dunstan's interest in this policy area, which I know is longstanding. In his time as opposition leader as well as premier, he demonstrated an ongoing interest in the area of Aboriginal affairs. I think the member for Dunstan is right to conclude that the overall majority of members in this house share a sense of responsibility that advancement in Indigenous affairs is a collective responsibility from which no-one is immune and that is certainly a sentiment that the government feels as well.

There has been an extraordinary amount of work undertaken to get us to this point. Throughout the life of this government, quite literally, there has been an effort to pursue the first Indigenous Voice to any parliament in the nation. It has been a substantial undertaking to translate the ambition into a piece of legislation that has now been brought before the house.

I would like to acknowledge a few people who have been particularly important to that effort. It is always a risky task when you start singling out individuals, but there are two I would particularly like to acknowledge. The first, of course, is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who is also the Attorney-General, the Hon. Kyam Maher. This is a subject the Attorney-General is more than just passionate about; it is something he feels deeply. That sense of commitment to his people was omnipresent in all of the efforts he has undertaken to get us to this point.

The other person, of course, is Mr Dale Agius, who was the commissioner who under-led the vast amount of community consultation, particularly with members of the Indigenous communities, that has informed the government's bill. It is important I think at this point to acknowledge that everything the government has sought to do in the development of this model and this bill is to make sure it reflects the will, the hopes and the aspirations of Aboriginal people in our state.

The passage of this bill will mark an exceptionally historic moment for Indigenous affairs in South Australia and, indeed, in the nation. It will mark a historic and significant moment for our democracy too. Arguably, this is probably the most substantial change we have seen to the operation of our parliament in our democracy in decades, so it is important that we get it right and we acknowledge the significance of this event in an appropriate way. On that basis, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.