Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 08, 2023


First Nations Voice to Parliament

The Hon. S.L. GAME (14:39): I seek leave to make a brief explanation prior to addressing a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on the First Nations Voice to Parliament.

Leave granted.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: The advance copy of the First Nations Voice Bill 2023, which was sent to my office yesterday but is yet to be publicly released, states that a person will be taken to be a First Nations person if the person is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. They must also 'regard themselves as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander' and be 'accepted as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person by the relevant Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community'. The bill furthermore states that 'a person will be taken to be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent if the person is biologically descended from the persons who inhabited Australia' before European settlement.

Concerns from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people have been raised with me about how far in one's ancestry a person can go back before claiming to be an Aboriginal person and how this could be evidenced. For example, somebody who is only able to trace Aboriginality to their great-grandmother, representing approximately 12.5 per cent Aboriginality or seven-eighths non-Indigenous lineage, could be considered an Aboriginal person for the purposes of the bill, despite not necessarily having a confirmed connection to Aboriginal culture or country. An obliging Aboriginal community organisation that is willing to provide 'proof' or 'confirmation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait heritage' would appear sufficient.

The First Nations Voice commissioner's first engagement report highlighted a range of concerns about requirements to demonstrate First Nations identity and that it would need to be carefully considered and managed sensitively and inclusively. It states that many people raised significant challenges finding organisations willing to issue proof or confirmation of First Nations heritage and some community members suggested that any government-led process to decide a person's First Nations identity is inappropriate.

The second engagement report heeds these concerns and the requirement for voters to submit proof of Aboriginality has now been dropped under the current model. My questions to the Aboriginal affairs minister are:

1. Is the minister concerned about a potential increase in racism and racial resentment due to there being no requirement for voters to submit proof of Aboriginality?

2. Is the minister comfortable with the scrutiny of First Nations Voice members that might follow from a requirement to prove Aboriginality?

3. Has the government considered an alternative approach that considers needs-based support for disadvantaged South Australians, rather than support based on race or the place of origin of one's descendants?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:42): I thank the honourable member for her question and for her interest in this area. Certainly, they are questions that have been grappled with in the past. As I think I answered the honourable Leader of the Opposition's question, the tripartite test that is involved in the final version of the bill was one which was suggested by a number of organisations who submitted during the consultation phase from the original draft of the bill.

It's one that has been considered by the High Court in the past and it's one that is probably the most commonly used definition we have that governments right across Australia use. We think after consultations that it's the most appropriate one that ought to be used.