Legislative Council: Wednesday, June 28, 2023


First Nations Voice To Parliament

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (15:33): Three months ago, both houses of parliament sat to much fanfare to pass Labor's Voice to Parliament, which they claimed would be a step change for Indigenous issues in our state. Unfortunately, the complex suite of issues facing Indigenous people has boiled over. It is no small irony that they have boiled over in the very same spot that parliamentarians and dignitaries assembled to hail the South Australian Voice to Parliament as a solution to the troubles faced by our Indigenous citizens.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen public safety and antisocial behaviour completely degenerate in our CBD and a scourge of drug and alcohol addiction and a swag of socio-economic issues has been on shocking display for all to see. These issues have impacted all around them: visitors to the city, small business owners and property owners. We have even heard of how the issue regularly spills over via the tramline into Glenelg.

While some pat themselves on the back for the passing of this legislation, the lot of Indigenous people in our community has only deteriorated. Worse yet, this is what we have somehow fallen into as a society: we cannot even openly discuss the reality of this situation. I have only seen one commentator, just one, highlight that the issue in the CBD substantially and sadly primarily relates to one disadvantaged group within our society.

How can we possibly hope to overcome the immense issues facing Indigenous people if we cannot even talk about the matter openly? How are we to bring evidence-based decision-making and public policy to bear on this complex problem if we have become so politically correct that we cannot even talk about it honestly? These issues are, sadly, not new. They have been around for many years. The last time things got bad, though, the previous state Liberal government addressed them with an innovative policy response, the first of its kind in Australia.

In the lead-up to Christmas 2021, the Department of Human Services established the Aboriginal Services Hub in the southern Parklands. The hub was co-led by the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation and the Iwiri Aboriginal Corporation. Its goals were to improve the safety and wellbeing of Indigenous people in the city, and those around them, to reduce antisocial behaviour, and to facilitate people to return to country.

This initiative had at least a dozen different services wrapped around it: SA Health, drug and alcohol support, the Housing Authority, Safer Families services, Centrelink, NDIS, domestic violence support, Return to Country and more. SAPOL were present and engaged in culturally sensitive policing resources. While it was not a perfect policy response and had some risk, following the tragic death of an Indigenous person in the southern Parklands, it was clear that the government had to do something, and so they did.

Results speak for themselves, as I can now say, having read the evaluation report of this policy initiative, which was given to the Labor government as far back as April last year. We saw an overall 20 per cent decrease in violence involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Adelaide's inner city. Of this, assaults on North Terrace dropped by almost 40 per cent, and antisocial behaviour in Rundle Mall and Whitmore Square dropped. Behaviour issues had to be managed around the hub, but SAPOL reported satisfaction with the policy response in reducing antisocial behaviour in the city.

As a result of the policy, 82 people were returned to country, to their own communities, many in the Northern Territory. Many more received treatment or support services to help get their lives back on track. I highlight this because even though antisocial behaviour and alcohol-fuelled violence should be met with the firm hand of the law as it applies to all citizens, it should also be followed up with an evidence-based approach that seeks to fix the problem in the long term.

I am not saying this policy holds all the answers—the problems are many and complex—but I would say that the Labor government has taken little to no notice of what they could have learnt from the groundbreaking Liberal government initiative. But for some tents, some bins and some portaloos thrown up around the western Parklands, there has been no effort to implement successful parts of this policy. Instead, Labor has allowed this issue to flourish. They have dropped the ball and it is not just Indigenous people who are poorer for it but all of us who care for the lot of our fellow man.