Legislative Council: Thursday, July 06, 2023


First Nations Voice To Parliament

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON (15:13): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking questions of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs regarding Aboriginal affairs.

Leave granted.

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON: On 2 February 2023, InDaily reported that the Prime Minister confirmed that the referendum could be held as early as August or as late as November. The First Nations Voice Bill was introduced on 9 February 2023, with the knowledge that the referendum will occur later this year. On 24 February 2023, TheGuardian narrowed it down to October; this was around a month before the bill passed the parliament and the Sunday sitting. On their 26 March 2023 article of the Sunday sitting, news.com.au reported that:

Attorney-General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher told reporters South Australia had achieved an 'extraordinary national first. We are confident that what we've done today will show people and dispel fears about a national body and give people comfort in the lead-up to a national referendum.'

On 11 May 2023, the Hon. Kyam Maher gave a radio interview on FIVEaa and, in answering a question on how long until the Voice will be able to make representations, his answer was:

September 9 is the first election. There'll be administrative work to do to get the local Voices up and running and then those local Voices will select two members each to form the state-wide Voice, and then the ability to make representations to Parliament and to Cabinet will start rolling out. So, the representations to the executive will happen soon after the election and then the path of legislation to allow those representations to Parliament kick in from the start of next year.

Last week, the minister announced that the First Nations elections will be delayed until March of next year, saying that having our own South Australian elections in September was leading to confusion and that the increasing prominence of the national Voice debate was making it harder to inform communities about the state-based body. My questions to the minister are:

1. Given it was publicly known that the referendum would occur later this year, why did the government ram through the legislation, including a Sunday sitting, if there were concerns around timing?

2. This seemed to be urgent and pressing, given the rate at which it was pushed through the parliament, but now you are happy to make community groups wait; what has changed?

3. In his consultation, were concerns about the timing of the referendum's proximity to the state First Nations Voice election made by the commissioner or other groups before the legislation passed this place or the date that was set in September?

4. Will there be any cost implications as a result of the change of date of the election?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:16): I thank the honourable member for her question, and I can answer very simply the question: what has changed? We listened. That is what has changed. We listened to the views of people involved in such policy decisions.

I think, and I have had many members of the community talk about it, and certainly I have had a forum in Norwood about the State Voice and many members of the community were very pleased with what South Australia has done by leading the nation and establishing our own Voice to Parliament. As the honourable member has said, we have said we would like to see this set up by the end of this year. The reason that we announced a change in the date is because we listened—we listened.

Aboriginal leaders, Aboriginal elders who I have talked to have said as the progression has happened, as we get towards a national referendum, that in their view the prominence of the referendum is now leading to confusion between the two processes. The Commissioner for First Nations Voice and the Electoral Commissioner have given the same feedback.

It would be irresponsible, but I wouldn't put it past the former Liberal government, but it would be irresponsible to be setting up a body that is to listen to the voices of Aboriginal people and then not listen to their views about when the election should be held. It would simply be irresponsible to do, and so that is what we have done.

We would like to see these things happen as soon as possible, they are important, but doing it in a manner that doesn't listen to Aboriginal people's voices when new debates occur, and when there could be potential confusion as the referendum comes up, would just simply be irresponsible and completely against the spirit of exactly what we are trying to do.