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First Nations voice to parliament a step closer in South Australia with release of draft bill

Callan Morse -

South Australia is set to become Australia's first state or territory to legislate a First Nations Voice to state parliament after the South Australian Government's released its draft First Nations voice bill.

The bill, which follows extensive state-wide community engagement with the Indigenous community of South Australia proposes the creation of a state-wide First Nations group comprised of an equal number of male and female representatives from a yet to be determined number of regions.

The group of elected First Nations peoples would have a strong and direct line of communication with the government on behalf of First Nations peoples by having the capacity to advise and address South Australia's Parliament.

The bill proposes that the representative body be able to address parliament on particular legislation of interest to Aboriginal people, make an annual address to parliament, provide reports to parliament on matters of interest and engage ministers and chief executives about department budgets and priorities in annual meetings.

South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher said the proposed bill would ensure that First Nations peoples have more agency in relation to Indigenous matters.

"For too long, decisions have been made for Aboriginal people, and not by Aboriginal people," he said.

"By establishing this First Nations Voice to State Parliament, the Government recognises and respects Aboriginal people as the State's first peoples as well as their collective wisdom, which is needed to help make decisions that are in their best interests."

After an initial election of the state's inaugural First Nations voice group, subsequent elections would coincide with South Australian state government elections, with members to serve a four-year tenure.

Mr Maher said the establishment of the state's First Nations voice would make parliament more aware of Aboriginal affairs and the challenges experiences by First Nations peoples in South Australia.

"This draft Bill proposes change that will empower First Nations South Australians and strengthen our Parliament by making sure that it is informed about issues and concerns of Aboriginal people," he said.

After travelling the state to seek initial views from Aboriginal people on a voice to state parliament, South Australia's inaugural First Nations Voice commissioner Dale Agius will seek feedback from First Nations people across South Australia over the coming weeks.

Mr Agius said his engagement report, which has been releases publicly clearly demonstrated the desire of First Nations South Australians to have a local representative in state parliament.

"Overwhelmingly people have told me about the need for grassroots voices to be heard and that First Nations people should choose who represents them," he said.

"My report captures the resounding message I heard in these conversations â€" First Nations people in South Australia want to have a say in their affairs based on the principle of self-determination.

"They want to be able to influence the decisions being made about them at the highest of levels â€" in the Parliament."

The draft bill forms part of the South Australian Government's 2019 election commitment to a state-based implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas said the draft bill would give First Nations people in South Australia the rights to self-determination that they deserve.

"It's time Aboriginal people have the ability to express their hopes and aspirations for their people in the state's supreme decision-making body and that means speaking on the floor of Parliament itself," he said.

"We're leading the nation with a Voice to Parliament in the true sense of the word."

Mr Agius said after collaborating with the state government, further community engagement in relation to the draft bill will be conducted by throughout November, December and January.

"Following my first round of engagements I have worked closely with the Attorney-General and his department to ensure the bill has been informed by the voices of South Australian First Nations people," he said.

"We now have a model for how that could look.

"I'll be going back out to communities over the coming weeks to get their feedback and to have further conversations about the Bill to finalise arrangements about how it will work."

The draft bill is expected to be introduced to state parliament in 2023.


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