How can a Voice to parliament help my people and the wider community?

13 Oct 2023

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Voice to Parliament could assist communities, Youth Yes Campaigner Jade Gould tells us what this could actually look like in practice.

Jade Gould Article

My people, the Butchulla, of Queensland’s Fraser Coast region, have managed the local environment with fire for thousands of years. As a result, our local Country has adapted to rely on our cool climate cultural burns.

In 2020, we witnessed unprecedented catastrophic bushfires on K’gari (Fraser Island), the effects of which were devastating, with over half the island burnt.

We aren’t allowed to conduct our cultural burns anymore, so it’s hardly a coincidence we’re now seeing more regular bushfires on Country.

That said, the aftermath of the 2020 disaster was the first time the Butchulla people were included in the management of a bushfire and its related cultural heritage risk assessments.

I am a Butchulla and Woppaburra woman. I grew up on Butchulla Country emersed in language and culture. During these early years, the importance of caring for Country was instilled in me. Early on, I identified science as a tool to protect and care for Country. This inspired me to become an environmental scientist. I have also worked for several years as a state and federal public servant.

A “yes” result for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, which Australians will vote on at a national referendum later this year, will help create better outcomes for my community. I have seen the progress we can make when there are capable, skilled and passionate First Nations peoples leading the forefront of change.

From 2018-2021, I was a director of the Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) and was chairperson for the last year of my term. The BAC is the way my mob manage our Native title affairs and other matters on K’gari.

The BAC fought for a seat on the Incident Management Team (IMT) to collaborate with QPWS and QFES on the management of the 2020 fire. The BAC provided a significant amount of support and resources to help control the blaze. Using traditional ecological knowledge and our deep understanding of Country, we provided advice to help manage the risk of further fires. Many Butchulla people also helped on the frontline, fighting the fire on the ground. Overall, our support resulted in a better response to the fire.

The BAC provides a local “voice” to government in some ways, although it is very limited – mostly restricted to Native Title – and can be taken away by the whim of government. Even so, during my term on the board, we made enormous progress. The corporation grew to a medium-sized organisation, amid expectations it will grow larger over the near to long-term.

The BAC has become one of the biggest local employers of Aboriginal people, providing work for well over 100 Butchulla people. During the peak of Covid-19, a time when the nation’s finances were under pressure, the corporation helped to inject millions of dollars into the local economy.

During my time as chair, the BAC was leading Native Title discussions in Queensland and was selected as one of the first groups to enter negotiations under the state’s new GURA GURA framework. We successfully changed the name of the national park and world heritage area from Fraser Island back to its traditional name K’gari (meaning paradise in Butchulla language) and conducted very important truth telling surrounding the island’s long-term namesake, Eliza Fraser. Earlier this year the full name of the island was finally restored.

The reason I share my experiences at BAC and of my mob during the bushfires is because it is proof that when First Nations people do have a seat at the table – when we are able to contribute and offer input into the matters which affect us – it results in positive outcomes, not only for First Nations peoples, but for the entire community.

We have 60,000-plus years of experience managing this land, of expert cultural knowledge, and a deep understanding of the environment, which can and should be used to strengthen our economy and better protect the lands we all call home.

Our traditional land management practices, like cultural burning, could eliminate the risk of bushfires and reduce our carbon footprint. We understand more than anyone the challenges and barriers our mob face and we know better than anyone what it takes to overcome these. And we hold solutions and answers to these issues.

A Voice to Parliament would mean we can tackle these more sensitive internal local matters within our community, such as Aboriginality, nepotism and governance issues.

I often think about the future and try to imagine the world my very young son will inherit from us. The Voice gives me hope he will enjoy opportunities afforded to every other child. In his own Country.

Jade Gould is a Butchulla and Woppaburra woman whose traditional homelands include the Fraser Coast region and K’gari. She is an environmental scientist and has worked in state and federal government.

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