To be included and to be heard: SA’s First Nations Voice

12 Jun 2023

On May 16, The Wyatt Trust welcomed South Australia’s inaugural Commissioner for First Nations Voice, Dale Agius, to our meeting space at Inparrila.

More than 30 people from the social change sector were in attendance to hear the Commissioner’s hopes, goals and reflections on the long journey that culminated in South Australia becoming the first state to enact an Indigenous Voice to Parliament on 26 March this year.

Consistent with its belief that everyone deserves to be treated with equal respect and dignity, The Wyatt Trust is deeply committed to the process of reconciliation and supports a constitutional change to establish the Voice.

In opening the event, Chair of the Wyatt Board of Governors, Pam Simmons, noted that South Australia’s progress is happening against the important backdrop of the national referendum on Voice.

“In some ways, we are laying the path for the rest of the country,” she said. “It has taken us almost two decades to get to this point in South Australia and we really hope that we will see similar results at the national level.”

Commissioner Agius, who is a proud Kaurna, Narungga, Ngadjuri and Ngarrindjeri man, explained that his role leads consultations with Indigenous South Australians to enable First Nations people to have a say about the decisions that affect their lives.

At the time of the legislation’s passage, the Commissioner described the change not only as a means of having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices heard at the highest level of decision-making in the state but “more importantly, they will have the chance to share with the Parliament and the Government their aspirations for the future.

“This is about generational change,” he said, “to be included and to be heard.”

Under the legislation, six regions will be established across the state with two directly elected representatives from each group forming the State First Nations Voice which can address Parliament on legislation affecting First Nations people.

“There was a sense of achievement and relief when the legislation was introduced,” the Commissioner said. “It was emotional and there was a feeling of mutual respect and unity.”

The Commissioner explained that the consultations with Indigenous communities that led up to the introduction of the legislation highlighted the need to create opportunities for First Nations people to add their voices to the decisions that were being made about them.

“We heard very clearly that they want to speak directly to Parliament,” he said. “They asked, ‘When will the Government believe that we are strong enough to speak for ourselves?’”

The Commissioner said he was realistic about the challenges of implementing the legislation, noting that this is the first time the work has been done not only in South Australia but in the nation as a whole.

“We’re not going to get it 100 per cent right first time,” the Commissioner said, adding that relationships will be critical to the Voice to Parliament’s success.

“There is good will and good intention going into communities, but it’s not being felt on the ground,” he explained. “That’s why the Voice is one of the most practical things we have to make change.”

While the implementation of the South Australian Voice to Parliament marks the beginning of an important journey, there is much more to come on the road ahead with the implementation of the state-based legislation happening at a time when the nation is readying for a referendum at the federal level.

“Too often decisions have been made for First Nations people and not by First Nations People. This can change that.”

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