South Australia’s decision to postpone the state-level First Nations Voice to Parliament elections until 2024 has been described as a “cynical ploy” to prevent the public from fully understanding the implications of changing the country’s Constitution. The Institute of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank, has criticized the move, suggesting that it is an attempt to hide the “massive scope and operation” of an Indigenous Voice from public scrutiny.
The Aboriginal Affairs Minister of South Australia, Kyam Maher, justified the decision by stating that the ongoing national debate around the Voice to Parliament referendum was overshadowing the local work being done in the state. By delaying the elections, Maher said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in South Australia would have more time to understand and engage with the proposal without the distractions of the national discussion.
South Australia has already made progress in implementing its own version of the Voice to Parliament, but the recent decision to delay the elections comes at a time when public support for the national proposal is declining. The national referendum, which aims to embed a special Indigenous advisory body into the Australian Constitution, is set to take place later this year.
Daniel Wild, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, argues that the delay in South Australia’s elections is indicative of a wider lack of transparency surrounding the proposed Indigenous Voice. Wild asserts that if state governments are taking measures to prevent the public from witnessing the consequences of the Voice, it raises doubts about the proposed national model. He highlights the tension between the local state Voice, which is subject to change, and the Canberra-based national Voice, which would be permanently embedded in the Constitution.
The think tank has conducted research that suggests ongoing concerns about the effectiveness of the Voice proposals in improving the lives of Indigenous communities. It seems that there are reservations about whether the proposed advisory body will address issues such as unemployment, domestic violence, alcoholism, youth crime, and welfare dependency.
The SA model of the Voice to Parliament involves dividing the state into regions, with each region electing a “Local First Nations Voice.” These bodies have legal standing, can own property, and function independently of the government. The state-level body, known as the “State First Nations Voice,” has the power to represent the views of Indigenous people to the South Australian Parliament and Government, as well as other relevant bodies. It can also provide advice to other levels of government on policies concerning First Nations communities.
However, opponents, such as Senator Jacinta Price, have raised concerns about loopholes in the legislation. Price argues that it is problematic that individuals can self-declare their Aboriginality through a statutory declaration, potentially leading to an increase in the number of people identifying as Indigenous. This has not been a point of scrutiny at the federal level because the exact model of the Voice to Parliament will be determined after the national referendum.
The opposition, led by Peter Dutton, has criticized the lack of clarity and legal uncertainty surrounding the proposed constitutional change. Changing the Constitution in this way, according to Dutton, is unprecedented, and there are concerns about the implications of embedding the Indigenous Voice permanently.
In conclusion, South Australia’s decision to delay its Voice to Parliament elections has sparked debate and controversy. While the state government argues that this will provide more time for Indigenous communities to understand and engage with the proposal, critics claim that it is a strategy to hide the potential consequences of the Indigenous Voice. The discussion highlights the ongoing concerns and complexities surrounding the national referendum and the proposed constitutional changes.