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One Legal Future Post-Referendum: South Australia’s First Nations Voice

Dr Anna Olijnyk, Cornelia Koch, Madeleine Perrett


The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for Voice, Treaty, Truth. South Australia is the first Australian State to create a First Nations Voice in response to the Statement. While the 2023 national referendum on enshrining an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Australian federal Constitution failed, there is potential for implementing Voices at the sub- national level. The South Australian experience can serve as an experiment on how State- based Voices may operate. The legislation to establish a South Australian First Nations Voice passed at a special sitting of the South Australian Parliament and was assented to by the Governor of South Australia in a special meeting of Executive Council on the steps of Parliament House in March 2023. A State Ceremony was held to mark the occasion. A year later, in March 2024, South Australia’s First Nations people voted for members of Local First Nations Voices for the first time. The chairs of these Local Voices will form the State First Nations Voice. The Voices are expected to commence their work in the second half of 2024. This paper explains how the Voices will operate under the First Nations Voice Act 2023 (SA), including their engagement with the SA Parliament and Government. It also reflects on the electoral process, including nomination of candidates and the election mechanism. It discusses early commentary on whether the Voice may be 'a fresh bridge that [First Nations people] can walk on' or a ‘divisive and race-based’ ‘joke’. The paper assesses the SA Voice’s potential as a legal future in the aftermath of the referendum.