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The South Australian Voice to Parliament

21 February 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in support of this historic reform. For far too long, First Nations people have been marginalised and excluded from decision-making in our state and, indeed, in our nation. The impact of colonisation on First Nations people has caused intergenerational harm and trauma. From the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families to the stealing of land, the destruction of cultural practices, Aboriginal people have suffered and continue to suffer injustice and discrimination.

It is time for First Nations people to have a voice in decision-making in this parliament. For most of Australia's colonised history, policies have been inflicted upon First Nations people, not developed with them, not developed by them. Truth-telling is something the Greens recognise as being vital for our journey towards reconciliation. We know that there has been genocide committed against First Nations people and, as I mentioned, children stolen from their families, land stolen and cultural practices destroyed.

We see today, sadly, ongoing systemic racism against First Nations people. We see First Nations children locked up in disproportionate numbers in our jails. We continue to see poorer health outcomes for First Nations people. None of this is acceptable and all of this is a result of systemic racism and the failure of successive governments to provide what Aboriginal people want and need.

Non-Aboriginal people making policies has led to worse outcomes for First Nations people's lives. We need to hear from First Nations people about the issues they face. Now is an opportunity for us to stop and to listen to their voices and to incorporate their perspectives into our decision-making as a parliament. Now is the time for listening and the time for action.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart, delivered in 2017, calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament. The Uluru Statement calls for us to walk together in a spirit of reconciliation. It has asked us to step up and to build a future that is based on respect and understanding.

This statement, as outlined by my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks, has three vital elements: the first being a First Nations Voice so that we can hear and understand the perspectives of all the nations within our country's borders; the second being truth-telling so that we have a relationship built on trust and respect that does not shy away from those uncomfortable truths; and the third being an agreement, a Treaty, so that we can work side by side to build a better future for our country.

The South Australian Greens are committed to all three elements of this statement: Voice, Truth and Treaty. The Greens support the Voice to Parliament at both a state and federal level. At a state level, this legislation is a crucial step in bringing First Nations voices into our parliament and into our deliberative processes.

When he introduced this bill into this chamber, the Hon. Kyam Maher, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, reflected on the historic nature of this reform, and I echo those statements. As our nation prepares for a referendum on a First Nations Voice later this year, South Australia has an opportunity, which has been presented by the Malinauskas government, to lead. It is only right that we do so as we have a proud history of social reform.

We have a proud history of confronting prejudice and hatred, tackling those issues that divide us: sexism, racism, homophobia. Ours was the first state in the country to legalise trade unions in 1876, the first state in the country to give women the right to vote in 1894, the first place in the world to give women the right to stand for parliament in 1896, the first state in the country to decriminalise homosexual acts in 1975, the first state in the country to make age-based discrimination unlawful in 1991—the list goes on. History is calling us once again, and once again South Australians will heed the call.

The battle for First Nations' justice, of which the Voice is an important component, is part of a broader fight against racism and inequality in our state. The same ideology of hate that is used to deny Aboriginal South Australians their rightful place in our civic and political life is the same ugly ideology that has been used to deny women their basic rights. It is the same ideology that has been used to deny the rights of LGBTI people. As the late, great Reverend Martin Luther King once observed, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'

While we have so much work left to do in our state, South Australians have led the way in confronting these injustices, and we will do so yet again. Supporting a Voice to Parliament is a continuation of that great story of progress. Creating a Voice will enable First Nations people to move towards self-determination by finally being heard in making laws, policies and programs.

Too often in our democracy the voices of some drown out the voices of others, but by having a direct link to parliament through direct addresses, reports and hearings, the First Nations Voice to Parliament will be a foundation of our decision making. As a democratically-elected body, the Voice will be built on the principles of equality and fairness. I am hopeful that this model will lead to better outcomes for First Nations people in our state.

We recognise that the challenges in South Australia are immense. Over 50 per cent of our incarcerated youth are First Nations people, and Indigenous people are 15 times more likely to experience homelessness than other Australians. It is clear that we need to take urgent action to address these issues, and the Greens will continue to fight for these issues to be addressed in the parliament.

The Greens will continue to amplify the voices of First Nations people and groups such as Change the Record that have been telling us to address issues such as: raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14; investing in community-led, evidence-based programs to reduce criminal offending; building more culturally appropriate, affordable and public housing; and providing long-term investment in First Nations community-controlled housing sectors and specialist homelessness services.

This is an opportunity for the parliament to take a collective step in the right direction. I am very proud to vote for this bill, just as I will be very proud to vote yes in the referendum that will be held later this year. It is my hope that what we are doing in the parliament this week will move us closer to achieving a future where First Nations people's voices are finally heard, and where we have a parliament that is truly representative of all South Australians, not just the few.

In summing-up, I want to reflect on some of the arguments that have been made against this reform. I do think it is disappointing that there is not a multipartisan approach being taken to this reform, that the Liberal Party has chosen to join One Nation in opposing this legislation—I think that is regrettable for our state. Some of the claims that have been made in this parliament are, quite frankly, false. The suggestion that this is a third chamber is not true. No-one has proposed that a third chamber of parliament be created, and that is certainly not what this is.

Some members have asked: what message does a Voice to Parliament send to children of the future? I submit that the message is very clear: the message is that this parliament and the South Australian community recognises the sovereignty of First Nations people, recognises the unique role they should play in our democracy and wants to give them a voice in this parliament. That is a very powerful and important message to send to our children.

I have heard it suggested that, somehow, by creating a Voice to Parliament we are stoking the fires of division or even racism. I find that a nonsensical argument. Sadly, racism and systemic racism against Aboriginal people has been a persistent force in our state. We cannot overcome that if we do not give Aboriginal people a genuine voice in this parliament. A Voice to Parliament is not about furthering race-based division or furthering inequality; rather, it is about creating the conditions where we can finally overcome it.

I have also heard it said in this place that this is giving unfair treatment to one particular group over another. Rather, what this parliament is doing is recognising the unique role that First Nations people should play in this parliament as the traditional owners of this land, the land on which this parliament sits, and that is one small way of moving us on the path of reconciliation.

In concluding, I want to join with my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks in thanking the members of the South Australian Greens for their leadership internally on this, in particular our First Nations Greens group, the Original Greens. I want to thank my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks for her leadership in the work that she has done with the government on this important reform but also in engaging with First Nations groups over many years. I know that this has been a long-term project.

I want to recognise the leadership of the Attorney-General and thank him for the collegial way in which he has engaged with our party on this important reform. I feel genuinely excited about the potential that lies ahead. It is not often in political life that we have an opportunity to vote for something that can make a genuine difference and has the opportunity to genuinely change things for the better. I see this as being one such opportunity and I urge all members of parliament to get behind it, and let's make the most of what comes next.