Legislative Council: Tuesday, March 21, 2023


First Nations Voice, Parliamentary Sitting

The Hon. S.L. GAME (14:56): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Attorney-General, representing the Premier, on the special sitting of parliament scheduled for Sunday 26 March 2023.

Leave granted.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: A national referendum is looming. The referendum will allow all Australians, including South Australians, to have their say regarding principles surrounding giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people another Voice to Parliament in addition to their current elected representatives. The South Australian government has chosen to legislate a state-based Voice to Parliament ahead of the referendum and before waiting to find out what the South Australian people actually want.

The South Australian government has called a special sitting of parliament for the coming Sunday 26 March 2023. The special sitting will not occur without extra cost to the South Australian taxpayer. In addition to the cost of running the special sitting of parliament, the government has decided to make public transport free for the special sitting. My questions to the Attorney-General, representing the Premier, are:

1. What is the justification for demanding that parliament sit on a Sunday, taking members and parliamentary staff away from their families?

2. Why couldn't the special sitting be conducted during normal timetabling hours?

3. Is the special sitting of parliament a publicity stunt?

4. What is the total cost of the special sitting to the South Australian taxpayer?

5. Does the government agree that the money put towards the special sitting could be better spent on out-of-control issues such as ramping and child protection?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:58): I thank the honourable member for her question. Yes, the South Australian government is going ahead with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to the state parliament; and, yes, it is going ahead of the referendum due later this year.

This was I think possibly the first commitment the then Labor opposition made from opposition. I know that after the Uluru Statement from the Heart was handed down in May 2017, we made a decision, as a then state opposition, that we couldn't wait for a federal government of either stripe to implement what the most extensive consultation with Aboriginal Australians put forward as a blueprint, the tenets of Voice, Treaty, Truth, as handed down by the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

From mid-2019 this was a well-known commitment of the then Labor opposition. It was the first thing I heard the Premier say in many, many speeches. In the Press Club debate that was probably the most contested or watched part of the election campaign, the Premier opened up by talking about this. In fact, on the night of the election, this was the thing the Premier first talked about.

This was an exceptionally well-known part of the then Labor opposition's agenda in the lead-up to the last state election. So, yes, we did fulfil that election commitment by putting before this parliament a South Australians' First Nations Voice legislation. This will be historic and nation-leading. This will be the first of its kind in any state or territory in our commonwealth; 187 years of the founding of this colony and nearly six years after the Uluru Statement was handed down, we think this is overdue.

In much of the consultation that was conducted by the Commissioner for First Nations Voice, there were comments along the lines of, 'Yes, we've told you this over and over again. Just get on with it and do it'—to implement what we said we were going to do and what was so overdue.

I had the very good fortune of being part of, for periods of time on Thursday and Friday, the federal government's referendum engagement group and the federal government's referendum working group: the groups that are looking at giving advice on the question that will be put in terms of the constitutional change at a federal referendum and the group that will be looking at how the referendum rolls out. I have to say, and it is very clear to me from that but from other discussions, that the eyes of Australia—and particularly those who are involved in Aboriginal affairs—will be firmly on South Australia as we pass this legislation.

This is a historic day and I for one am very proud and pleased that the Premier has decided to let this day be shared by as many South Australians as possible. That is exactly why it's not on a Tuesday morning or midday on a Wednesday but on a Sunday when as many South Australians as possible can come and share what is a historic day, not just for South Australia but for this nation, and I think continues the best of the democratic principles that South Australia has been leading in for so long.