Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023


First Nations Voice to Parliament

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:51): Recently, I engaged in something that can actually be pretty risky—that is, I sat around a table with some friends and we discussed politics. Anyone from this place would know that that can be both the best and possibly the worst conversation you can have with friends while you are in this job because, as a member of parliament, at some point, whether you are in government or whether you are in opposition, your friends are going to turn around to you and say, 'Well, what are you going to do about it?'

Cost of living: that was raised—the basic price of everyday items. It is increasing. Wages are not keeping pace with it. The rental and housing affordability crisis: that was discussed. I mean, people are worried about their children: where will they live? Health and education were raised: people want to know that our state is heading towards a better, healthier and safer society. Jobs came up, particularly as our economy moves forward with hydrogen and defence projects.

While these are not easy subjects, the conversation was pretty good. People were quite patient with me. They understood that as governments we do not wield absolute power but we seek to take action where we can. They were happy to have a government that has its hands pretty firmly on the wheel. They were particularly happy with a government that cares about fairness. They saw reason for optimism among the challenges that are clearly in front of us.

As the chat was winding up, I had one of my friends say, 'Well, thanks for this, but one last question: what's going on with this Voice to Parliament?' I explained that we would be having a special and historic sitting to pass a bill that is going to allow First Nations to advise parliament on matters affecting them. 'Sunday, 26 March, 11am, free public transport. Don't miss it,' I said.

But my friend clarified something to the effect of, 'Yes, but why does it have to happen now? Shouldn't we sort out all these other issues we discussed first?' While my friend hastened to add that they supported First Nations people, they wondered: why now? In truth, I did not even have to consider my answer. It just came out.

I was sitting around a table with these good friends in a state with a long history of progressive and inclusive reforms. We were the first colony to bring in universal male suffrage and among the earliest adopters of secret ballot voting. We were the first colony and only the fourth global jurisdiction to give women, including First Nations women, the right to vote.

South Australia was the first to legalise trade unions, the first, as it was then, in the British Empire, in the 1800s. We established the first Aboriginal Lands Trust, something I assure you was quite revolutionary at the time. We were the first state to embrace the big battery, renewables and now hydrogen. We look to the skies with the national Space Agency.

We were the first to decriminalise homosexuality, embrace the abolition of the death penalty, introduce consumer legislation and lower the voting age. At the same time as all these things were happening, our community doubtlessly endured significant challenges and misfortunes, but it didn't stop us from legislating broadly. Now, this Sunday, we are going to take another historic step: a step seeking to make our democracy better and more able to listen directly to representatives of the oldest living culture on the planet.

It struck me that, during any of these past reforms, surely similar discussions must have been taking place around tables just like the one I was sitting at with my good friends in our healthy democracy. The fact is that issues matter most to those who are most affected by them, and I understand that not every South Australian is as keenly focused as we are on the shameful impacts of our nation's long history of disenfranchisement of Aboriginal people and cultures, but for many South Australians nothing could matter more.

That this government is taking action in one area of community life does not make others matter less to anyone. On Sunday, we should all attend and indeed extend our empathy to those South Australians and those people who are watching from around our nation to whom the Voice to Parliament matters most. That is what I said to my friend.

The Voice is not a voting seat in parliament. Its existence will not distract from this government's focus on health, education, jobs, cost of living, energy, or any other matter. In fact, the Voice will support our ability to address these issues when we pass these laws as they affect the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our state: our First Nations people.

Addressing disadvantage is not a threat. I look forward to seeing all of you on Sunday at 11 on the steps of parliament, just outside. Come and see our state make history again.