The following article was authored by Sandy Bolton MP and published in the Noosa Today on the 9th of June 2023:

Noosa is one of the most stunning places visually, yet underneath is the real beauty.  Its people, the knowledge they hold, passions and efforts that mostly go unsung. Many lay dormant or hidden, until the issue they have been working on comes to the fore. One of these gems is Noosan Noel Pearson whom I met at a Voice to Parliament event. Noel has dedicated three decades of his life to the recognition of First Australians. He has been known to be prickly with moments that can be misinterpreted as arrogance, however his commitment to bettering the lives of indigenous could not be misinterpreted.

Like so many, the opposing views around the Voice had me uncertain as to what would be the best outcome for all Australians. Yes, or no? Would it divide as claimed, or unite? Would it finally lead to better health, education and employment opportunities and an end to the high incarceration rates? Ever since living and working on remote properties nearly 40 years ago, I have seen vast funding injected into everything from housing to private education, planes to programs, projects and policy. Advisory boards, corporations and Royal Commissions. All in efforts to improve some shocking realities that sadly still exist.

I will never forget meeting a young indigenous lad out bush, Peter, who had left the station years prior to go to university. He returned, married a lass who spoke no English, and had two beautiful daughters. When I asked why he had returned from ‘city’ life, his answer was simple. To bring back what he had learnt to better the lives of his community.

Peter would now be the same age as Noel, and I often wonder what he is doing, what changes he fought for.  I have a feeling it would be the same as Noel, whose advocacy to address entrenched disadvantage in indigenous communities by improving education, fostering parental responsibility, and ending welfare dependency and substance abuse is well documented.

At that Voice panel event, Noel removed fears within the room by explaining that the referendum would establish a body that may, yes only ‘may’, make representations to executive government and Parliament on matters relating to indigenous Australians. However, it is Parliament who determines the composition, functions, powers and procedures, and that the Voice will have no power to delay or veto any decision. Well, nothing scary there! For me, it was still “Why would this be any different to anything that has happened before?’. From my understanding, it is that embedding this in the Constitution means it would no longer be a victim to the endless, frustrating and demoralizing cycling that occurs with ‘revolving’ governments, parties and politicians, where entities are set up, then dismantled, and recommendations from multiple inquiries are never realized. Sound familiar? For me, that is when the penny dropped. There is a need for a consistent ‘funnel’ where indigenous Australians can feed into decisions in their own way and take responsibility for those decisions. This is not as has been portrayed, privileged ‘city’ indigenous making determinations over others. It is the ‘Peters and Noels’ as well ‘Kyra’s, Carol’s and Josies’ who spoke on International Women’s Day, and many, many others, creating a path within the knowledge learnt in our world in efforts to make it better in theirs.

From my experience, I understand the concerns, lack of trust and fears being experienced.  Over many years, governments and ‘experts’ have implemented a raft of policies that have been detrimental to indigenous communities, and I have seen the most shocking outcomes when no one listened to them. Maybe, this ‘funnel’ will finally ensure their voices are heard for what they seek, not what we, or ‘experts’ believe they need. As Noel said, there is no Plan B, even from those that oppose. Should the referendum fail, the reconciliation agenda will die, which is troubling for all Australians after such a long journey from where this all started, the Uluru Statement of the Heart.

Following the ‘Yes’ event, I have listened, read articles and watched videos for balance due to a lack of similar ‘No’ events. One appeared to believe the Voice was government, which from everything I have heard is not. Others did not believe the proposed constitutional amendment would go far enough to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, however, gave no alternative. Some have indicated that their sovereignty was never ceded, hence they should not recognize our laws which they believe are against the Charter of Human Rights. Facebook commentators are also short on options, with the proffered ‘just fund what is needed’ missing the reality of the billions spent that has not made the difference sought. However, in the journey to the October referendum, we will learn more, including from the official campaigns that as of writing, have not clarified alternatives.

So, with the Voice tackled, at least partially, let’s move to related matters!

At the regional parliamentary sitting in Cairns, we debated the Path to Treaty Bill.  The majority supported, though concerns were raised, including from myself.  If individual treaties are going to be negotiated between individual groups and government, how can the dissent we have seen locally in relation to Native Title and Indigenous Land Use Agreements be avoided if these follow the same confidentiality? If this journey is for all Queenslanders, all information should be freely available…total transparency. There also needs to be more than the standard ‘education campaigns’ referred to, as the confusion between Voice to Parliament (Federal), Path to Treaty (PTT State), Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA’s State) and Native Title claims (Federal) is rife. In summary for those who have not listened to my speech on PTT, these treaties are different as they can be around issues not accommodated in other realms. Complex yes, however that is why the ‘Institute’ has been enabled by legislation, to work through this.

Whilst on agreements, the Cooloola Great Walk (CGW) ILUA was finalised this month and posted to Noosa 360 on our website together with some research regarding the ‘Cardinal Principle’. Unfortunately, we have yet to obtain the Kabi Kabi factsheet from the Department of Resources after a meeting in March as it is still with Queensland South Native Title Services, however once received, we will post to 360 and notify via our Friday night update on Facebook.

The ILUA may just be another step, however it’s a major one for this project. Once we have received a list and timeline of remaining processes, we will also post to Noosa 360.  In addition, a survey to obtain our communities views on commercial activities, which includes permits for camping and access in National Parks.

In closing, having learnt much on this journey so far, I trust along the way you have too! With media and some Facebook commentators asking my stance on the Voice, even though not a vote I need to take on Noosa’s behalf as you get to do that individually, I follow the same routine. As always when researching Bills or issues, I tackle it objectively without a predetermined position as I am not aligned to a party, ideology or specific viewpoint, only to our community. This is not ‘fence sitting’ as some like to claim, it is doing the role I am elected to do, even when I am voting outside of that role! And I continue to research.

However, when considering the decades long journey of so many, and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, the question currently remains. If not the Voice, what is a viable, alternate option to facilitate the elusive improvements being sought for our First Australians?

As the much-loved Alan ‘Fox’ Rogers left in a message read out at his life celebration, his dream was to see the Voice become a reality. Now, who could ever argue with Fox? Well, okay, there were times that I did, however in these ‘debates’ I learnt much that I carry with me to this day.

Until next month, enjoy the many amazing aspects of our world, and hearty, diverse discussions we love to have, including around the Voice.


Media enquiries: Dylan Hafey 07 5319 3100