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‘Going backwards’: SA native title bodies raise Voice concerns

South Australian native title organisations have written to the state government saying they are “deeply concerned” about its proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament.

Jan 20, 2023, updated Jan 20, 2023
Attorney-General Kyam Maher. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Attorney-General Kyam Maher. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The letter sent to Commissioner for First Nations Voice Dale Agius and Attorney-General and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher raises concerns about the proposed structure of the Voice.

It was sent by SA Native Title Services on January 5 and has the signatures and support of 28 chairs and vice chairs from native title bodies – a majority in South Australia.

“We do not support and are deeply concerned by certain aspects of the proposed model, in particular the failure to build into the model native title groups and leadership,” the letter states.

“The proposed model would establish a regional or local Voice with no defined representation, linkages or accountability back to native title groups – to First Nations. How is this a First Nations Voice?”

Earlier today, Maher said he expected the government’s Bill to establish the Voice to pass both houses of Parliament after the SA Greens backed the proposal.

The Bill is due before parliament next month, with the government hoping to establish the national-first Voice by the end of the year.

“It’s not just the Voice to our parliament, but a voice within our parliament,” Maher said. “At the end of the day it’s about Aboriginal people having more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives”.

However, the letter sent by SA Native Title Services states that the proposed Voice would bypass established individual native title groups in favour of one Indigenous body.

“The proposed model will create new institutions, rather than investing in and strengthening the existing First Nations leadership,” the letter states.

“[It] in many ways reflects ATSIC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission). The First Nations landscape has changed dramatically since it was abolished nearly 20 years ago. Why are we going backwards?”

Keith Thomas - CEO, SA Native Title Services. Photo: Supplied/InDaily

Keith Thomas – CEO, SA Native Title Services. Photo: Supplied/InDaily

CEO of Native Title Services SA, Keith Thomas, said he was concerned by a lack of contact from the government since the group sent the open letter.

“No one’s got back to us about any of our concerns as yet,” he said. “The minister’s trying to rush it through next month when Parliament resumes.”

Thomas said the new Voice might bring “another layer of complexity” to existing native title arrangements and could possibly see the Voice making decisions on an Aboriginal nation’s affairs without proper consultation from that group.

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“The Native Title network already exists and the holders already perform the functions which were prescribed in that draft bill,” Thomas said.

“It’s like a lottery having the election: you don’t know who’s going to participate in that process and how many people they’re disenfranchising in that process.

“At the end of the day, it could be people who have no interest in the country and that because they might not be traditional owners from South Australia. They could be Aboriginal people from interstate even.

“It’s the traditional owners who speak for country and what happens – no one else has that ability.”

The letter attached a 10-page submission to parliament which identifies cultural, representative and administrative problems with the Voice, which could “disenfranchise Indigenous people”.

“The establishment of Local First Nations Voices will have the potential to create a false narrative about who can speak for Country, create confusion about responsibilities, and create uncertainty, potentially putting each First Nation and the Local First Nation Voice at loggerheads,” it states.

“It would seem the State Government is intent on creating division between Aboriginal people and each First Nation rather than investing in and strengthening First Nation leadership.”

In a statement, Kyam Maher told InDaily that the government has received feedback from Aboriginal communities and has “taken into consideration concerns presented from groups like SA Native Title Services”.

“The Bill that will be presented to Parliament will ensure the Voice does not impinge on what Native Title Groups do and ensures that there is a formal structure to take into account the views of Native Title groups,” Maher said.

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