South Australia’s Voice to Parliament will not be a “silver bullet” for improving the lives of First Nations people, the man responsible for delivering the country’s inaugural state-based body has conceded.

SA First Nations Voice Commissioner Dale Agius said the state’s Voice to Parliament would instead give Aboriginal people “a seat at the table” to discuss their concerns directly with the government.

“The Voice isn’t the silver bullet, isn’t the answer to all of the issues that Aboriginal people are facing,” the Kaurna, Narungga, Ngadjuri and Ngarrindjeri man told the ABC. 

“What this is, is just an approach to get those issues to be heard in a more public space.”

Mr Agius was appointed by the SA government in 2022 to consult with Aboriginal people about what the state’s inaugural Voice to Parliament should look like.

Under the model, 46 First Nations people would be elected to sit on six local Voices, with two representatives from each local Voice to then form the state Voice.

With more than 100 candidates officially declared and early voting set to open on Wednesday, the advisory body Mr Agius helped spearhead for is now just weeks away from becoming a reality.

“The situation Aboriginal people have found themselves for quite some time is probably a bit unacceptable,” Mr Agius said.

“If we keep going down the path we’re going, we’re going to get nowhere.”

Mr Agius says there needs to be more clear messaging around the state-based Voice.(ABC News: Simon Goodes)

‘Clarity’ needed after referendum result

South Australian First Nations people will head to the polls four months after Australians voted against enshrining a federal Voice to Parliament in the Constitution.

More than 64 per cent of South Australians voted “No” at the October referendum, in a result so decisive that it took just 54 minutes of counting for the ABC to project the outcome.

Mr Agius said the broader South Australian public still needed “clarity” about the difference between the failed federal proposal and the state body.

He said the SA government established the Voice by passing legislation through parliament, rather than enshrining it in the state’s constitution. 

“I think there needs to be a bit more messaging, particularly for the model in the regions,” Mr Agius said.

“We’re only asking for a seat at the table to have our issues heard with decision-makers, nothing more, nothing less.”

Nominations reveal metropolitan and regional divide

Of the 113 people who put their hands up to stand as Voice candidates, more than one-third come from Adelaide.

Mr Agius said up to 14,000 Aboriginal people live in Adelaide, compared to between 3,000 to 4,000 First Nations people in each of the five regions.

More than 100 people have nominated to fill 46 seats on six local Voices.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

He said to account for the population difference, 11 representatives would be elected to the central Adelaide Voice, while seven representatives would sit on each regional Voice.

“When we were able to sit down and talk to people and they understand that they’ve got their regions as their own Voice body, they’re relieved and pleased that they can take up their own business and their own issues within their own regions,” Mr Agius said.

“How they come together and work that out is entirely up to them.”

Closing the Gap key to measuring Voice success

Mr Agius said the SA Voice would help deliver “good, responsible government decision-making, accountability and transparency”.

He said its success could be measured by tracking the state’s progress in meeting the Closing the Gap targets.

“Those metrics have key indicators in terms of the social equity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our state,” he said.

In 2022-23, South Australia reported it had gone backwards implementing three Closing the Gap targets.

The state is failing to increase the number of Aboriginal young people in employment or education, reduce the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, or decrease the number of Aboriginal adults in jail.

“We’re expecting that once representatives are elected and that the issues of Aboriginal communities are heard within the local Voices and the state parliament, there’ll be shifts around the dial of those indicators which tell us Aboriginal communities are falling behind,” Mr Agius said.

The SA Electoral Commission will open 13 early voting centres from March 6 to 15.(ABC News: Carl Saville)

Commissioner to ‘drop out’ after elections

Voting in the First Nations Voice to Parliament elections is non-compulsory.

The SA Electoral Commission will open 13 early voting centres from March 6 to 15, and 32 polling places on election day on March 16.

While voting ends on March 16, the electoral commission will not begin counting until March 25.

“When the 46 [representatives] get elected, they’ll form the regional Voices and the state Voice, then my role will drop out,” Mr Agius said.

“I’ll have to think about what my next move is, and I haven’t thought about anything politically.

“I’m looking forward to two weeks off, and then I’ll have to reassess myself.”