Away from the national spotlight, a Voice to parliament could be up and running in South Australia before Australians vote on the same concept at a referendum later this year.
The state’s Labor government will on Tuesday introduce the First Nations Voice Bill 2023, which if passed would allow the 12-person body of elected Indigenous leaders to speak on the floor of parliament during legislative debates, lobby the heads of government departments and advocate to the cabinet of state ministers.
“I hope what we do here in South Australia acts as a positive demonstration to the nation that this is something that can bring people together,” Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas said in an interview.
“It enhances our democracy and improves the state of Indigenous affairs in our state without hurting anyone.”
In contrast to the heated debate surrounding a national Voice, the change has not sparked a culture war in South Australia.
Conservative politicians have not criticised the Voice, and the Greens – whose federal counterparts are split – back the idea. There has been no hint of a media campaign since Malinauskas announced the reform as his first election commitment before winning last year’s election.
SA’s Voice will be enacted through legislation rather than a referendum, meaning the full details can be released and debated, while concern about a lack of detail in the national proposal has been a major sticking point for the federal opposition.
Despite these differences, Malinauskas – who on Friday signed a statement of support for the referendum along with other state and territory leaders – said the respectfulness of the SA debate had stood out to him.
“It’s my hope the Liberal opposition supports this. They have not indicated any opposition to it which, I think, is a good thing,” he said.
The government has allocated $10 million to the body, which is designed to inform the policymaking process to create better living standards for the 2.5 per cent of South Australians who identify as Indigenous.
Its members will be entitled to the same remuneration and allowances as members of other SA advisory bodies.
The state government hopes to legislate the Voice in the first quarter of the year and have it operating before the federal referendum, which is likely to be held in September or October.
Labor has a clear majority in the lower house of the South Australia parliament, but requires the support of the Greens or other independents to pass legislation in the upper house.
Victoria is also on the path to having a Voice. Its elected First Peoples’ Assembly, which is currently tasked with negotiating a treaty with the Victorian government, is expected to morph into a Voice body in the coming years.
The landmark Indigenous Voice Co-design Process report that underpins the national Voice suggests it will exist at both a national and regional level. Local bodies are likely to be involved in the election of members to a national Voice. How the Victorian and SA institutions would interact with a national Voice remains unclear.
Key Voice campaigner Megan Davis said on Sunday that regional bodies would play a significant role.
“The Voice to parliament isn’t going to be a top-down mechanism. It’s going to be drawn from communities, whether they call themselves grassroots communities,” she said on ABC’s program.
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