A young Aboriginal man in a grey suit stands under a tree in front of some corporate buildings.

Yes campaigners accused of ‘politicising’ SA First Nations sports carnival

The organisers of a First Nations sports carnival in regional South Australia are facing criticism for allowing Voice to Parliament supporters to “politicise” the event, but they say some community members wanted the Yes campaign to attend.

Key points:

Thousands of people will come together for the annual South Australian Aboriginal Football and Netball Carnival in Port Augusta
Yes campaigners and Uluru Statement from the Heart representatives will have a stall there
Some attendees have raised concerns, but organisers say campaigners were coming at the community’s request

Up to 3,000 people are expected to gather in Port Augusta this weekend for the annual South Australian Aboriginal Football and Netball Carnival (SAAFNC).

The carnival purports to be the highest-attended Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander event in SA, offering First Nations people from across the state the opportunity to compete in front of recruiters and their communities.

The event’s organisers confirmed that Yes campaigners and the local regional dialogue group for the Uluru Statement From the Heart had paid to operate a stall for attendees to hear about the statement and upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum.

But some attendees have concerns about their involvement.

“We don’t like the politics coming in, we don’t want the politics coming in,” Kaurna and Arabunna woman, Janette Milera, said.

“There’s enough politics within our own community and this is one weekend we’d just like to be politics-free.”

Ms Milera, who is a past player and committee member, said she was yet to decide how she would vote in the referendum.

“Community just want this event to be political-free and an event that we can enjoy and watch our children and grandchildren play football and netball without it being politicised,” she said.

The annual South Australian Aboriginal Football and Netball Carnival claims to be the highest-attended First Nations event in the state.(Supplied: SAAFNC)

Rachel McLeod, a First Nations woman who previously played for and coached the Northern Flinders football and netball clubs, said she also has concerns.

“This is a community event and the lack of transparency and the amount of confusion and doubt that’s surrounding this referendum puts a lot of stress on the Aboriginal community,” she said.

“This carnival needs to be left just as a community event so people can unwind from the pressures of that referendum coming up.

“It needs to be kept separate.”

Ms McLeod said she would vote No in the referendum.

A spokesperson for the No campaign told the ABC campaigners would not attend the carnival.

about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament:

Campaigners invited at ‘community’s request’

The SAAFNC is chaired by Dale Agius, who is also SA’s inaugural commissioner for the First Nations Voice.

Mr Agius said the local regional dialogue group asked to attend this year’s carnival at the request of people in Port Augusta and surrounding communities.

“Some of the community’s requests have been because they’ve been not informed by that (Uluru Statement from the Heart) process,” he said.

“They’ve haven’t been able to meet anyone from the Uluru Statement from the Heart working group.

“In the regions – Port Augusta and west and north – [people] have wanted the opportunity to engage in those conversations considering that it’s the biggest political agenda, social agenda or, in our case, the biggest Aboriginal agenda … that our communities are facing right here and now this year.”

Support for Indigenous Australians

Mr Agius said the Voice to Parliament referendum was impacting “all aspects” of Aboriginal people’s lives and they “can’t escape the current conversation of the referendum”.

“It’s the biggest institutional reform conversation of our generation,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity for regional communities who have by and large said they felt disconnected and isolated from the very important topic of the Uluru Statement From the Heart, the state-based Voice to Parliament and the referendum process for a Voice to Parliament.”

Sharon Bailey, who chairs the committee that is hosting this year’s carnival in Port Augusta, said having a stall to promote the Voice was “part of community messaging”.

She said members of the Yes campaign from the A?angu Pitjantjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in SA’s far north would help man the stall to provide messaging in language.

“People don’t have to stop in there to get information if they don’t want to, but if they want to stop in and have a yarn about it, they’ve got an opportunity to,” she said.

A young Aboriginal man in a grey suit stands under a tree in front of some corporate buildings.

Dale Agius says the local regional dialogue group asked to attend at the request of people in the community.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Mr Agius and Ms Bailey said South Australia’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Kyam Maher, would also attend the carnival’s delegates’ meeting to speak to elders from across the state.

In a statement, Mr Maher said he had been “fortunate to present” at the carnival over several years.

“In the past few months, I have spoken to sporting organisations, churches, multicultural communities, faith groups, businesses, industry associations, unions, and many other groups about the Voice to Parliament and the Ulu?u Statement from the Heart,” he said.

“In the lead up to the referendum, and ahead of next year’s elections for the South Australian First Nations Voice, I will gladly speak to any interested group about giving Aboriginal people more of a say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

Hundreds of players to compete at carnival

Ms Bailey said about 400 football and netball players would gather at Port Augusta to compete at this year’s carnival – the second since COVID restrictions saw the event cancelled for consecutive years.

She said the event cost about $35,000 to run, with much of that funding coming from private donations to the committee.

“We see what the Matildas do when they get a bit of backing,” she said.

“Our Aboriginal football players and netball players are so talented.

“We’ve got a great talent pool and it’s being wasted because there’s no (government) investment in sports in these remote communities.

“These kids need a hand up and have benefactors come along and recognise their talent and skill and fund them.”




Author: Russell White