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‘Range of flaws’: SA Libs to oppose Voice to Parliament

The state Opposition will oppose the Malinauskas Government’s legislation to create a state-based First Nations Voice to Parliament, saying the proposed model is “rushed” and would “essentially create a third chamber of parliament”.

Feb 21, 2023, updated Feb 21, 2023
Image: Jayde Vandborg/InDaily

Image: Jayde Vandborg/InDaily

Regardless of the Liberal Party’s position, the First Nations Voice Bill 2023 is still set to pass state parliament with the support of the Greens.

The Bill, which was debated in the upper house for the first time this morning, would allow Aboriginal people to vote for representatives to sit on a body – called the First Nations Voice – which could directly address parliament, cabinet and department chief executives.

It would also see directly-elected “Local First Nations Voices” established in regions across the state.

Following a party room meeting last night, Opposition Leader David Speirs announced that the Liberal Party would join One Nation MLC Sarah Game in opposing the Bill in its current form, saying it was “rushed”, “fairly poorly consulted on” and had “no clear practical outcomes” to improve the lives of Aboriginal South Australians.

“We’re in principle supportive of the concept, but very concerned about the model,” he told reporters this morning.

“We believe the model lacks detail – a lot of information will come in via regulation, including what elections will look like, how people will be elected, the amount of remuneration members get paid to be part of this body.

“One of our major concerns is section 40 of the Bill, which essentially creates a third chamber speaking into the parliamentary process.

“We’ve got a House of Assembly, we’ve got a Legislative Council and then we’ve got what could be interpreted as a third chamber presenting to parliament.”

Despite the creation of a state-based First Nations Voice to Parliament being a key Labor election commitment, the Liberals have until now refrained from indicating strong opposition to the concept.

Speirs has previously said that the Liberal Party was broadly supportive of an Indigenous engagement body.

“Clearly as a party we see a need for such a vehicle,” he said last month, adding that the party was at that time yet to see the final version of the Bill.

The Liberals last year reintroduced their own Bill – the Aboriginal Representative Body Bill 2021 – which proposed to “give Aboriginal people a voice that will be heard by the Parliament of South Australia, the cabinet, state authorities and other persons”.

That Bill also proposed to enshrine in legislation the role of the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement – a position which the Malinauskas Government scrapped at the end of last year in favour of its proposed First Nations Voice.

Speirs this morning said the Liberal Party would propose a “significant range of amendments” to Labor’s Bill when it makes its way to the lower house in a few weeks’ time to fix what he described as a “range of flaws”.

He said the party was still finalising what those amendments would be.

“Aboriginal South Australians should feel confident, comfortable and clear about how they can engage with government on issues, projects, initiatives or pieces of legislation policy that affect their lives – we support that,” he said.

“The Bill that the government have before parliament at the moment was rushed, we believe it was fairly poorly consulted on and we have heard from many Aboriginal South Australians that they’re concerned about it.

“Some are concerned about the process, some are concerned about the detail, some are concerned that they haven’t been brought along on this journey.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher told InDaily it was “extremely disappointing” that the Liberals’ would oppose the Bill.

He said the Opposition had been provided briefings on the process over the last six months and had been given a draft copy of the Bill in early November 2022.

“At no stage did the Liberal Opposition suggest any changes or make any formal submissions on the Bill,” he said.

“Our Bill was subject to rigorous consultation for over six months, with the Commissioner for First Nations Voice to Parliament, Dale Agius, undertaking extensive discussions with hundreds of Aboriginal people, organisations and communities.

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“This is in stark contrast to the former Liberal Government’s Bill that was the subject of just nine days of consultation.”

Maher said the SA Voice to Parliament would be an advisory body only and it would be up to the government of the day to determine whether they took the representations of the Voice into account.

Labor’s Bill is set to pass both houses of parliament regardless of which way Liberal MPs vote, with the Greens last month backing the legislation to give the government the required numbers in the upper house.

That prompted South Australian native title organisations to write to the state government saying they were “deeply concerned” that the Voice could bypass established individual native title groups.

In response, the government introduced provisions to the Bill which it said would ensure the Voice did not impact on native title agreements or other First Nations organisations.

Maher previously said an election would occur “sometime during the course of this year” for Aboriginal people to elect representatives to the Voice, with the government committing $10 million over the forward estimates towards its establishment and ongoing operation.

Meanwhile, the federal government plans to introduce legislation to enable a vote on a federal Voice to Parliament in March, with the referendum to be held later this year.

The “yes” campaign for the referendum will launch tomorrow, with this week declared the “national week of action” on the Voice to Parliament.

SA Opposition Aboriginal Affairs spokesman Josh Teague said the party’s opposition to the state-based Voice did not indicate its position on the national referendum for a federal Voice to Parliament.

“Importantly, this is a different proposal from the national referendum set for later in the year and our opposition to this current Bill does not indicate a position on that,” he said.

“The former Liberal Government has a proud record when it comes to practical action to improve outcomes for Indigenous communities, but we recognise there is more work to be done.”

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has for weeks called for more information about how the Voice will work as the Liberal Party weighs up whether to back the “yes” or “no” campaign in the vote.

He warned on Friday the referendum was doomed to fail, again accusing the prime minister of withholding key details on the Voice’s makeup and scope.

– with AAP

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