Legislative Council: Thursday, October 19, 2023


First Nations Voice to Parliament

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON (15:05): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs about Aboriginal affairs.

Leave granted.

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON: On Tuesday, during question time, the minister said the referendum and the State Voice are two very separate issues and that the referendum at the weekend was about constitutional change. The question put at the referendum was, and I quote:

A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

As you noted on Tuesday, the state First Nations Voice Act amended our state constitution to include the First Nations Voice.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Point of order, Mr President: I don't believe 'you' noted anything on Tuesday.

The PRESIDENT: Questions are referred through me, but obviously the question is to the Attorney-General. Continue, please.

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON: As the minister noted on Tuesday, the state First Nations Voice Act amended our state constitution to include the First Nations Voice. Minister, how is the emphatic 64.8 per cent no vote in a direct question referendum not a clear indication that South Australians do not support a Voice to Parliament?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:06): I am happy to repeat what I said earlier this week. The question that was before the Australian people at the referendum, I am disappointed didn't succeed, but that was a question about changing the Australian constitution. The point has been made, and I certainly had people at a polling booth, both pre-poll and on the day, say to me that they supported both the idea of recognition of the oldest living culture on the planet in our constitution and also the idea of establishing a Voice but they didn't want to change our constitution.

That is a very different proposal and, as people have said to me, the only way we could change it again is through another vote of the people. As disappointed as I am, I recognise that that was the will of the Australian people. As I have said, we have a very different proposition in South Australia. We have created something by legislation. Of course, everything that we have done in South Australia could be changed by legislation again.

I might just also make a little bit of commentary, seeing as the honourable member referred to questions that were asked on Tuesday. I would suggest the honourable member, and some other members of the opposition, might reflect on how they conducted themselves in this chamber on Tuesday. We had dozens of senior elders from right around South Australia, Aboriginal elders who have committed their lives to improving their Aboriginal communities, here in the chamber—

Members interjecting:


The Hon. K.J. MAHER: —on Tuesday. I have had a lot of feedback from a lot of those elders wondering about the way those on the other side conducted themselves. I completely accept the rough-and-tumble of what we do here leads to interjections, but I think the unedifying way that members of the opposition in particular conducted themselves on Tuesday did them no favours.

I think with so many important people in the chamber, who have made past commentary on the behaviour that happened, I would hope that members opposite might reflect a little on that. It is not every day that we have such esteemed people in the chamber and to treat their feelings with such contempt has been commented upon quite a number of times. It hasn't always been the case that we have seen this sort of contempt for issues in Aboriginal affairs and for Aboriginal leadership. For many years, improving the disadvantage that Aboriginal people face had been a bipartisan endeavour in this state.

I think back to my time involved in politics, to people such as Dean Brown, who was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the government prior to the Mike Rann government. I think of people who have held portfolio areas in Aboriginal affairs from the Liberal Party, people like Dr Duncan McFetridge. You yourself, sir, had responsibility for some time for Aboriginal affairs. Ministers in the previous government, such as the Hon. Michelle Lensink and our former colleague the Hon. Stephen Wade, who conducted themselves in such a manner that gave them a great deal of credibility and respect in much of the Aboriginal community. I think it's a pity what was descended to on Tuesday, and I certainly hope that members might reflect on how they conducted themselves.