Dr Roger Thomas, Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, has published his biennial Report of the Commissioner (‘the Report’). The Report, which details Dr Thomas’ activities, also provides commentary on the ongoing ‘exclusion and inequalities’ experienced by Aboriginal South Australians.
This article discusses Dr Thomas’ proposal for the establishment of an Aboriginal Representative Body in South Australia.
The Aboriginal Representative Body
The South Australian Government Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan originally proposed the development of an Aboriginal Engagement Reform proposal. The proposal’s aim was to better enable ‘engagement between government and Aboriginal communities, and for Aboriginal voices to be more represented in government decision-making’. 
Currently, the South Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council (‘the SAAAC’), is the formal Aboriginal representation to the South Australian Government. The SAAAC’s members are appointed by Premier Steven Marshall following a public nomination process.
In developing his Aboriginal Engagement Reform proposal, Dr Thomas undertook a five-stage process to determine an appropriate model. The culmination of this process is the proposal of a new Aboriginal Representative Body (‘the Body’), which would replace the SAAAC.
In an effort to consider the entirety of Aboriginal South Australians, Dr Thomas undertook a five-stage process. Importantly, the process:
- developed twelve principles to guide the proposal, prompting broad community engagement, self-determination of Aboriginal people and legitimacy of the Body.
- held state-wide consultation within Aboriginal communities. The majority of those consulted expressed interest in ‘improving engagement with the state government’ and there was ‘support for an Aboriginal voice to government that was an independent, representative and genuinely connected with the state’s Aboriginal community’. Further, the Body, being chosen directly by the community, as opposed to being chosen by the government, was welcomed. 
The Role and Functions of the Body
In December 2019, Dr Thomas presented his model to Premier Steven Marshall and the South Australian Parliament.
The proposed Body will serve a number of roles and functions. Importantly, the Body will progress the establishment of a Voice in Parliament, which was one of the principal requests from the Uluru Statement of the Heart. 
The Body will contribute directly to government decision-making in areas which impact Aboriginal South Australia by:
- contributing to state policy debate;
- making recommendations to government on issues and barriers of Aboriginal people;
- making recommendations to agencies on policy and programs;
- continuing and improving the relationship between Aboriginal communities at the government; and
- continuing involvement in Cabinet Strategic Meetings.
The members of the Body will be elected by Aboriginal South Australians across five (to be established) electoral wards. The government currently appoints the SAAAC members and it is believed this new approach will better reflect the diversity of the Aboriginal community and have greater grass-roots links. 
COVID-19 travel restrictions into Aboriginal communities several restricted Dr Thomas’ intentions to establish the Body in July 2020. Dr Thomas and his office will continue their work into 2021 by:
- drafting election rules;
- drafting legislation for the election of members from five wards; and
- establishing an electoral roll of Aboriginal South Australians and the mechanisms to promote and support voter registration.
Further commentary on the Uluru Statement from the Heart
In 2017, 250 delegates from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, came together to adopt the Uluru Statement of the Heart. One of the two requests sought, was the establishment of a Constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament (‘the Voice’), which would act as the Voice of Indigenous peoples in federal parliament.
In October 2019, Federal Minster of Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, announced the Indigenous voice co-design process, which would work towards establishing local, regional and national elements of an Indigenous voice. Minister Wyatt established a Senior Advisory Group to develop models which would ensure Indigenous Australian’s are heard at all levels of government.  In October 2020, the Senior Advisory Council conducted their final meeting before preparing their interim report for the federal government.
The approach to working with Indigenous communities was a focus of the Morrison Government in addressing the failings of the Closing the Gap targets. In 2020, the Morrison Government entered into the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. The new agreement is founded on the approach where ‘policy making that impacts on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is done in full and genuine partnership’. This genuine partnership was also been echoed by Mr Thomas in his Report, believing ‘long-term, suitable change for Aboriginal people can only be achieved through self-determination that is achieved by having Aboriginal people at the heart of decisions that concern them and their lives’. 
More information on the new approach to Closing the Gap is available in our Year in Review.
For further information, please contact Michael Pagsanjan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
 Department of the Premier and Cabinet, South Australian Government Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan 2019 – 2020 (Annual Report, 2020) 15.
 Dr Roger Thomas, Report of the South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement (Biennial Report, November 2020) 23.
 Ibid 24
 Ibid 24.
 Dr Roger Thomas, Report of the South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement (Biennial Report, November 2020) 9.