Voting has closed in South Australia’s inaugural First Nations Voice to Parliament election with the result of the poll not expected until later this month.

The SA Electoral Commission estimated about 30,000 First Nations people were eligible to vote in the election — the first since SA’s parliament passed legislation last year to establish the advisory body

Electoral Commissioner Mick Sherry told the ABC vote counting would begin on March 25 to allow for the return of postal votes from rural and remote communities.

“We fully expect all the counts will be completed during that week and certainly before Easter,” Mr Sherry said.

“We expect to do the final declarations the week after Easter.”

Electoral officers set up a polling booth at Yalata.(ABC News: Stephanie Richards)

Voting was voluntary and only open to enrolled First Nations voters.

First Nations people had until 6pm to vote for 113 candidates who have put their hands up to fill 46 seats across six local Voice regions.

Seven people will be elected to represent each region across the state, except in the Central Adelaide region, which will have 11 members.

One male and one female presiding member from each local Voice will then be appointed to the state Voice.

The inaugural Voice will run for two years, before new elections in 2026 bring it in line with the state’s four-year general election terms.

SA Voice to give advice to SA parliament and government

Once elected, the SA Voice would be able to speak at the second reading stage of any bill before SA parliament.

It would also have regular meetings with the SA government on issues which impact First Nations people.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher said the election was an important day.

“We have the very first elections for the South Australian First Nations Voice, there will be dozens of polling stations from Ceduna, Coober Pedy and points in between for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say and elect representatives who will make representations to all levels of government for their communities,” he said.

“It is really significant — not just for First Nation people in South Australia but also for South Australians generally, we’ve had a proud tradition of these sort of democratic historic firsts and this builds on that legacy.”

Kyam Maher with South Australia’s Commissioner for First Nations Voice, Dale Agius.(ABC News: Ethan Rix)

“The Electoral Commission reports there has been a steady stream in early voting.

“This is the first time we’ve done something like this anywhere in Australia, so being the first time we need to expect there will be a reasonable turnout but acknowledging that it will be improved upon in subsequent years, and of course there is a lot of, I think, fatigue in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people after the [national] referendum last year,” Mr Maher said.

Opposition Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson Josh Teague, who opposed the state-based Voice, said the government had walked away from the body which he described as lacking substance. 

“It provides for a defective model that won’t best serve the interests of Aboriginal people,” he said.

“We’re all interested in better outcomes in better engagement and in working towards improvement for Aboriginal South Australians and that’s what we need to now get on with doing.”

Vote follows federal referendum 

The SA Voice election was held just four months after more than 64 per cent of South Australians voted No at the October referendum to enshrine a federal Voice in the Constitution.

“It’s very significant, there must be a voice for Aboriginal people,” voter Christine said.

The SA Voice was created by passing legislation through state parliament. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

“It’s not just one person doing it, it’s together as Aboriginal life is — the kinship network, and there’s a whole kinship network coming through today.”

“To be able to have a diverse range of Aboriginal people here in Adelaide in South Australia providing input into the things that affect our communities is really quite overwhelming, it’s a really special day,” voter Odette said.

Unlike the failed federal proposal, the SA Voice is not enshrined in the state’s constitution. Instead, it was created by passing legislation through parliament. 

That means the broader South Australian public did not vote on whether or not the body should exist, and it could be changed or abolished by future governments.

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