Misinformation about South Australia’s Indigenous voice to parliament spreads online

<span>Kyam Maher, SA attorney general: ‘There’s nothing at all to fear with the SA First Nations voice to parliament.’</span><span>Photograph: Matt Turner/AAP</span>
Kyam Maher, SA attorney general: ‘There’s nothing at all to fear with the SA First Nations voice to parliament.’Photograph: Matt Turner/AAP

Misinformation about South Australia’s voice to parliament is spreading online and factcheckers say the claims are false and echo those spread before last year’s federal voice referendum.

The state’s voice has been legislated and elections will be held on 16 March.

RMIT CrossCheck, an online verification service, said one of the dominant narratives that “marred” the federal voice was that it would be “racially divisive”. That claim has now resurfaced, along with false claims the voice was set up in “secret”.

CrossCheck said that a claim the election is “race based” echoes “a dominating narrative circulating in the year ahead of the 2023 federal voice, arguing that the proposal would grant Indigenous Australians ‘special rights’ and that since it would only serve one group of people, it is ‘racist’ by design”.

Related: Australian states to push ahead with voice and treaty processes in absence of federal body

Multiple posts claim, wrongly, that the state government is forcing a voice on SA despite the no vote getting a majority at the election – the state voice was not put to a referendum and is markedly different from the federal version.

“Some social media users appeared to be confusing the SA voice and the upcoming election with last year’s federal voice,” the factcheckers said.

The attorney general, Kyam Maher, said it was a “very different proposition”.

“The referendum was about changing the federal constitution, which we do very rarely,” he said.

“What we have is a legislated voice to parliament that will have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people elected by members of their own communities to give advice to government to help them make decisions.”

CrossCheck pointed to United Australia, a Facebook page that declares it has no affiliation with Clive Palmer (who founded the United Australia party).

United Australia wrongly claimed in a post that the SA voice was treasonous and would be “invalid” under the constitution.

It also claimed that “they want us to eat the bugs” because they contain chitin that “cannot be processed by our gut” but instead fuels cancers, parasites and fungi. That claim is part of a conspiracy theory that the elites will feast on real food while forcing the rest of humanity to live off bugs. US broadcaster National Public Radio said the theory was “framed as a matter of individual freedom and government control”.

Related: Inside the voice campaigns: how muddled messages and voter confusion led to a crushing defeat

CrossCheck also singles out Mark Aldridge, who has unsuccessfully run at federal and state elections as an independent and One Nation candidate, for claiming it would give Aboriginal people a “one up”, and that it “seems to be a secret election”, along with multiple other claims CrossCheck said are misleading.

Aldridge made the claims in an interview with Voice of Freedom’s Carl Liebold, part of the freedom movement, which comprises a grab bag of anti-vaccination, anti-lockdown and anti-government activists including sovereign citizens.

Aldridge also said the voice could be expanded in the future so that “any legislation, any bill … any spending, anything passed through parliament, must by the way of this legislation, must go before the voice or the black parliament before it can proceed through or be agreed or passed”.

Some no campaigners in the lead-up to the federal election falsely claimed the voice would have veto powers.

“There’s nothing at all to fear with the SA First Nations voice to parliament,” Maher said.

“It’s an advisory body and at the end of the day the government will still make decisions.

“The government will decide what laws to pass and what money to spend, but this advisory body will give advice to government to help us make better decisions.”

Aldridge conceded the voice would not have any veto powers but said: “I’m all for Aboriginal people getting a voice but I’m not sure that having a quasi-black parliament is a good idea.”

Under the state legislation, First Nations communities will vote to elect two levels of representatives, a local voice and a state voice.

Voters will choose seven elected members in six regions (except the region which includes Adelaide, which will have 11 representatives) for the local voices.

Two representatives from each region – making a total of 12 representatives – will form the state voice, which will engage with the parliament, ministers and the government.

Maher said Labor’s “very first commitment” in opposition in 2019 was to the voice, that the premier, Peter Malinauskas, spoke about it at the opening of many of his speeches, and that the dedicated two-month consultation with Aboriginal individuals and communities was “the most significant” they had ever had. About 5,000 people attended a special Sunday sitting of parliament to see the legislation passed.

Aldridge, who is also the former director of the Australian Federation party, said some of his other concerns had been allayed as he found out more about the voice, but that he believed people would falsely claim Aboriginality in order to vote, and that he still thought there had not been enough consultation.