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Green light for SA’s Indigenous Voice to Parliament

South Australia will have an Indigenous Voice to Parliament later this year after the state government secured a majority of legislative support with the backing of the SA Greens.

Jan 20, 2023, updated Jan 20, 2023
Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Attorney General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher said he aims to have a bill for the Voice before parliament next month with the aim of establishing the nation-leading Voice.

“We hope to introduce the legislation in the very first sitting week and then we are keen to get it through parliament with proper debate, but as quickly as we reasonably can,” Maher said.

“We want to have our inaugural First Nations Voice to Parliament up and running by the end of this year, and that will include an election to occur sometime during the course of this year for Aboriginal people to elect their representatives to the Voice.”

Maher said the Greens’ support for the legislation will allow it to pass both the upper and lower houses of parliament, with the government buoyed by comments from the Liberal opposition supporting the concept.

“[The Voice] will have certain rights,” Maher said.

“It’ll have an ability for an annual address to parliament, but will also have a right to speak to parliament on any bill that’s of importance to the Voice.

“It’s not just the voice to our parliament, but a voice within our parliament and I guess at the end of the day it’s about Aboriginal people having more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

“For over 20 years now I’ve been working in and out of Aboriginal Affairs, I’m absolutely convinced that policies and services for Aboriginal people and communities work best when Aboriginal people have more of a say in those things.”

Maher said the establishment of a South Australian Indigenous Voice to Parliament may help bring forward a Federal Indigenous Voice, currently being debated in the public sphere.

“I am pretty much on a weekly basis, talking to my counterpart Linda Burney, the Federal Minister,” Maher said.

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“I suspect what this will do is show people that it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s not taking power away from anyone else but will have actual benefits in improving the lives of Aboriginal people by providing better quality service programs.”

It comes as the state government announced that it will change laws surrounding evidence admission in court to better cater for Indigenous voices.

Concerns that rules of evidence in South Australian legal proceedings prevent Aboriginal people giving evidence regarding their own traditional laws and customs will be addressed with an amendment bill to the Evidence Act 1929 to be introduced later this year.

Often in Aboriginal culture, information about traditional practices and customs are passed down verbally by Aboriginal elders.

This may mean that such evidence could not be presented in court, where the hearsay rule applies to prevent people giving evidence about statements made by others to prove a statement is true.

Similarly, the opinion rule which prohibits witnesses from giving opinions about matters they have not personally witnessed can prevent an Aboriginal person from offering an opinion about the nature or extent of their own laws or customs.

The government will consult with key stakeholders including the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, South Australian Police, Law Society of South Australia, the Crown Solicitor’s Office, South Australian Bar Association and the Office of the DPP before the Bill is introduced later this year.

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