The Government’s assimilation policy meant that those who had more than a stipulated proportion of European
Dale Agius, who was appointed the state’s Commissioner for First Nations Voice in July last year, said implementing the Uluru Statement at a local level made sense.
The role of the Aboriginal community
There is growing recognition across Australia that if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are involved in designing laws and policies, they will produce better outcomes for their communities. In South Australia, a new body called the First Nations Voice will allow communities to provide advice directly to Parliament and the government about laws that affect them.
The first regional Voices will be elected on March 16 next year and will choose members to sit on the statewide Voice later in the year. Each local Voice will have two presiding members of different genders and the state Voice will have 12 members who will represent a diversity of interests including Elders, youth, women and the Stolen Generations. The state Voice will also have advisory committees for land and culture, health and other issues.
One of the big challenges of this project will be ensuring that Aboriginal voters are enrolled and that they turn up to vote. The government is implementing new strategies to encourage people to vote, and the Voice will have the power to disqualify votes from those who do not register or vote. The Voice will also be able to investigate electoral fraud.
Some groups have raised concerns about how the Voice will work, but the SA Government has dismissed these fears. The national referendum to establish the Voice will be held before the end of the year, and it is hoped that the model used in South Australia will be a blueprint for the national body.
If the national Voice is established, it will be a powerful symbol of the importance of Aboriginal representation in Australian politics. However, it will be important to ensure that the Voice is not seen as a vehicle for imposing Aboriginal agendas onto the rest of the community.
Despite the rain, more than 5,000 people gathered along North Terrace on Thursday to support the launch of the First Nations Voice in South Australia. The ceremony was attended by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, politicians from all parties in the House of Assembly and representatives from the Senate. The new body will provide a direct line of communication between the state government and the nation’s most disadvantaged people.
The role of the Aboriginal party
Across Australia there are many ways in which Aboriginal people engage with the political system. Some choose to be fully integrated into the English-speaking culture of Australian society, while others live in traditional homelands or on community-controlled land like Pukatja (formerly Ernabella) and maintain strong connections with their homeland through ceremonies, song, dance, language and law.
Historically, Aboriginal Australians’ participation in the political process was limited, and the impact of this has been profound. However, a growing body of evidence shows that direct involvement leads to much better policies and results for Aboriginal Australians. This is agreed by all parties in the Australian Parliament, and it was at the heart of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap developed by the Coalition Government in 2020.
In South Australia, the state government is responding to the Uluru Statement from the Heart by introducing legislation in February that would establish Australia’s first Voice to Parliament for First Nations People. The state’s Voice model would see local and regional Indigenous voices elected to form a statewide body, which could then elect representatives to sit in the South Australian parliament.
This would be a legislated body, not enshrined in the constitution, meaning it could be changed or abolished by future governments. The federal government has not committed to the state’s proposal and is considering options for a nation-wide Voice.
Aboriginal affairs minister Kyam Maher has stated that the federal government wants to ensure that the national Voice will be “nothing less than a powerful voice for Australia’s First Nations”. The Nationals have argued that a national Voice would undermine the work of the 11 Indigenous members of the Australian parliament and the state-based voices in the states and territories, and they are demanding more information from the state government on its plans.
Mandy Paul, director of the SA Migration Museum, said that while progress had been made in politics for Aboriginal Australians, more needed to be done. She added that in the early 1900s it was commonly assumed that Aboriginal people were a dying race, which had an effect on how they were treated.
The role of the Aboriginal candidate
The election of the first Aboriginal member of parliament in South Australia was a landmark moment in Australian history. The move was widely celebrated as the country’s first step toward full equality and justice. However, the election of Kerrynne Liddle was not without controversy.
Liddle, an Arrernte woman, was the Liberal party’s choice to represent the state of South Australia in the Australian Senate. She is the state’s first Indigenous Senator and the country’s first Aboriginal female senator. But, the election of Liddle has also brought attention to a range of issues that affect the Indigenous community.
One such issue is the way that Aboriginal people are treated by the political process. In many cases, politicians and voters are not aware of the unique circumstances faced by Aboriginal Australians. This can lead to discriminatory actions and practices that are detrimental to Aboriginal communities.
When Aboriginal Australians are elected to the national Parliament, they will be expected to advocate for their community’s interests, and to promote reconciliation. They will be required to follow a strict code of conduct that requires them to act with integrity and good faith. This is especially important in a country like Australia that has one of the world’s highest levels of party discipline, and where representatives almost always vote along party lines.
Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful about the future of Aboriginal representation in Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are becoming increasingly prominent in Australian life, with many making outstanding achievements in sport, politics, arts, culture and more. In addition, a number of Indigenous community-controlled peak organisations have emerged that protect and support their communities’ interests.
The South Australian government has responded to the Uluru Statement from the Heart by introducing legislation that would create a state-based Voice to Parliament. The state’s Voice to Parliament model could serve as a model for the national Voice to Parliament that will be voted on in a referendum later this year. However, the federal government has not yet formally announced what its model for the national Voice to Parliament will be.
The role of the Aboriginal member of parliament
The first step in addressing this was the commitment to establish a state-based Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. This is different to the federal Voice. It is intended to be the mechanism through which the Uluru Statement from the Heart – ‘Voice, Treaty and Truth’ – will be implemented in South Australia.
The State Voice has been established through legislation rather than a constitutional amendment. This leaves future governments free to alter it. However, the current Government is committed to ensuring it functions effectively and has allocated significant funding to the process.
This money will go towards a number of things including:
1. Providing a connected, direct and independent line of communication for First Nations people to South Australia’s parliament and government.
This is a vitally important initiative that will enable the State to fulfil its role in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. It will also allow the State to meet its obligations in a variety of other areas such as the reburial, exhumation and reinternment of ancestral remains and securing appropriate housing for Indigenous people.
2. Providing advice to the state parliament and executive on matters of particular concern to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
3. Making representations to the parliament and executive on matters of particular concern to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of the state.
The proposed way for the State Voice to make these representations is by means of a report to the parliament and government on an annual basis. In addition, the State Voice will be able to make representations on particular bills or issues as required by the parliament.
4. Advising on the exercise of legislative power by the parliament and the state government in relation to matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanderpeoples.
5. Making representations to the state parliament and executive on other matters of significance to the community.
This is a very positive development. It will ensure that the State government is able to take into account important and often ignored community priorities. It will also help the parliament understand how its decisions will impact on communities and help to inform future policy decisions.