Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 08, 2023


First Nations Voice to Parliament

The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:42): I rise to speak on the Voice to Parliament. A level of personal responsibility and moving forward is part of what is required from anybody who has experienced trauma. I want to see the lives of those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in despairing conditions improved, as I do any Australian living in substandard conditions. Ultimately, to prosper and close the gap, adaption and participation is required in Australian society, and the right thing to do is to be honest that simply maintaining culture and living in remote locations will never close the gap.

I have greatly enjoyed the journey of meeting different Aboriginal people from Narungga up to Barngarla Country and in between. I have found the Aboriginal people I have met to have a genuine desire for inclusion and participation. They feel let down by the stop-start nature of programs and the focus on box-ticking rather than real tangible solutions. Government must provide support based on needs, not race, and I, along with the constituents I have consulted, find a focus on race to be a major step backwards for our society.

The state Labor government's First Nations Voice Bill 2022 is divisive and plays on the compassion of the South Australian people. One Nation supports all Australians having a voice and an equal right to be heard. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders already have a strong voice at our highest level of government. Currently, there are 11 federal parliamentarians identifying as Indigenous, representing 4.85 per cent of all seats, more than a full percentage point higher than that of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, as per the 2021 census data.

The overwhelming feedback I have received from my community interactions is either shock, disappointment or confusion at this legislative proposal by the South Australian Labor government, especially as it is occurring prior to the upcoming referendum, which is intended to listen to and gauge the Australian public's opinion.

This is evidenced by recent reporting in national newspapers that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living remotely have not even heard of the Voice and instead would prefer more tangible support for bush communities to keep children in school and provide sustainable employment opportunities—witness the crisis occurring in Alice Springs.

I commend the Attorney-General on his genuine passion for improving the lives of Aboriginal people, but in this place we need to be committed to improving the lives of everyone in South Australia. Statistics on the most disadvantaged in our society show that some 70 per cent of those living in poverty and 76 per cent of those who are homeless are not in fact Indigenous.

I remember being at an event recently regarding disengaged school students. They all had trauma backgrounds and came from intergenerational disadvantage. They had dropped out of school and ceased to engage completely, suffering depression and mental health disorders. The program had been successful in bringing these kids back from the brink to participate in society again. None of this group were Aboriginal. I found it offensive when a Labor member decided to greet them with an Acknowledgement of Country, informing them that they were on stolen lands.

Aboriginal people I have met during my consultations are justifiably over government box-ticking. Strangely, none of my meetings or consultations with the Aboriginal community was started with a Welcome to Country. None of the Aboriginal people I met were interested in that. They wanted to talk about education, employment, health and security in their community.

Many here will be all too familiar with the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a wide range of statistics, including health, life expectancy, suicide, education, children in care, incarceration, crime, domestic and sexual violence, and substance misuse. What these statistics do not reveal is the fact that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have overcome many of these burdens and are now thriving and contributing. Those left behind are predominantly Aboriginals who remain living in rural and remote Australia.

For the most disadvantaged cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, it is an obvious solution that moving out of their remote locations and more deeply integrating with the general Australian population will provide the greatest benefit. This has been the achievement of the 80 per cent or so of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population who are not burdened by being tied to their remote cultural homelands and who have found their home among fellow Australians.

My visit to Point Pearce showed a community that had insight into their own problems. They need to be listened to, like any other struggling community. While they told me they had a visit from the Commissioner for First Nations Voice to Parliament, they felt they still did not understand the Voice. By drawing on the experience of the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have more deeply integrated with broader society and have essentially closed the gap, we will be in a better position to assist the minority who are most in need.