Leaders of SA’s Voice to Parliament revealed

The South Australian First Nations Voice has held its inaugural meeting and elected two presiding members to speak to parliament on matters affecting Aboriginal people.

Jun 14, 2024, updated Jun 14, 2024
Tahlia Wanganeen and Leeroy Bilney have been elected to key positions on the SA First Nations Voice. Inset photos: supplied. Background photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Tahlia Wanganeen and Leeroy Bilney have been elected to key positions on the SA First Nations Voice. Inset photos: supplied. Background photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The inaugural meeting of the 12-member State Voice was held on Wednesday and saw Central region representative Tahlia Wanganeen and West and West Coast representative Leeroy Bilney elected presiding members.

Wanganeen and Bilney will soon be able to address state parliament on any legislation of interest to Aboriginal people. This could happen as early as this year, the state government said, and will be determined by the Voice members themselves.

One of the presiding members will also deliver an annual address to a joint sitting of both houses of parliament about the Voice’s activity over the past year and matters of interest to First Nations people.

Wanganeen, a Narungga, Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri woman, is a senior policy adviser within the federal government’s Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, a statutory body headquartered in Adelaide that helps Indigenous people acquire and manage land and water.

She is also chair of NAIDOC South Australia and a former senior project officer in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

“The establishment of this State Voice represents a vital step forward for community by ensuring that the decisions that impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reflect the true needs of our communities based on our lived experiences,” Wanganeen said in a statement.

“I am honoured to be elected to this important position by my community and now my peers on the State Voice.

“It is a big task, but we can do this together.”

At the SA Voice election in March, Wanganeen was elected to represent the Voice’s Central region with 46 first preference votes.

The Central region, which covers the CBD and most of Greater Adelaide, is one of six regional Voice areas – all of which elect two presiding members that make up the 12-member State Voice.

Bilney was elected to the West and West Coast Voice region with 36 first preference votes.

He is chief executive of the Yadu Health Corporation, an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation servicing Ceduna and surrounding communities including Koonibba and Scotdesco in the state’s west.

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Bilney, a Marlinyu Ghoorlie, Wirangu, Kokatha, Mirning, Noongar and Barngala man, has previously had to push the state government to fix Yadu Health’s clinic in Ceduna.

The SA Health-owned building was riddled with asbestos, mould and water damage before the Malinauskas and Albanese governments committed $15.85 million to repair and upgrade the dilapidated clinic. Bilney described the situation in July 2021 as “degrading”.

The West and West Coast region Bilney now represents stretches from Cowell on the eastern Eyre Peninsula all the way to the Western Australian border, capturing the Aboriginal communities of Koonibba, Yalata and Oak Valley in between.

In a statement released on Thursday, Bilney said: “We are committed to bringing the voices of our communities to government and others so that they are hearing directly from our communities and from people who may not have had a chance to share their views on matters that they care about deeply.”

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher on Thursday congratulated both Bilney and Wanganeen on their election as State Voice presiding members.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander South Australians expect a strong, independent Voice to advocate on their behalf to Government, the South Australian Parliament and to the Chief Executives of agencies,” he said.

“I congratulate the members of the State Voice and its two newly elected presiding members, and I look forward to working with them as we collectively embark on this historic journey.”

SA Voice leaders

Elected representative of the state and local voices on the steps of Parliament House in April. Photo: supplied

The Liberal Party, which opposed establishing the State Voice, criticised voter turnout at the inaugural Voice elections. There were 2619 votes cast in the first poll, less than 10 per cent of the 30,000 voters eligible.

Voice representatives have urged the public to be patient with the new system and argued that the publicity generated from engaging with state parliament will raise the Voice’s profile within the community.

The Electoral Commission of South Australia also said during the polling that it was “challenging” to engage with eligible Aboriginal voters about the State Voice only five months after the federal Voice referendum was defeated.

The Malinauskas Government established the State Voice via legislation last year and rebuffed calls to disband it following the federal referendum’s failure.

Unlike the failed federal proposal, the State Voice can be abolished or reformed by legislation.

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