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Queensland Reflections on the Voices for the Bush Conference

Representatives from the Queensland Government and Local Councils at the Voices for the Bush Conference Dinner (from L to R: Nic Sabatino, Chris Blake, Edward Swann, Renee Henry, Jarrod Cowley-Grimmond, Daniel Harris, Elijah Joseph.

AWA and WSAA were delighted to host the inaugural Voices for the Bush conference in Alice Springs in August. The conference was an opportunity to bring together decision-makers and policymakers from water utilities, service providers, government agencies and consultants to share knowledge for developing, maintaining and operating smaller water supplies for Indigenous and remote communities and local governments in regional, remote and rural Australia. More than 200 delegates from across Australia attended the conference, with 38 from Queensland.

The Queensland Government, through the Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water, supported attendance at the conference by Nic Sabatino, a Kaurareg man from Thursday Island and Manager Utilities, Torres Shire Council, to provide an opportunity to share his experience managing water in his community.

Nick Sabitino with Senator McCarthy
Nick Sabitino with Senator McCarthy

Nic said of his time at the conference, “I was very pleased to have been invited to attend the Voices for the Bush Conference. It was a great opportunity to listen to all the other Indigenous communities and the struggles they have with water quality on First Nations land.

“My personal suggestion would be to hold yearly conferences in different states. The highlight of the event was the yarning circle, which asked us to consider when we are a small voice, how do we send a big voice to Canberra on behalf of remote Indigenous communities.”

Ed Swann, Indigenous Liaison and Regulatory Officer – Water Supply Regulation with the Queensland Department of Regional Development Manufacturing and Water (DRDMW) and Voices for the Bush Conference Committee member, delivered a presentation at the conference on ‘The Regulatory Approach - QLD Indigenous Councils Challenges in Drinking Water’ along with Renee Henry, Principal Regulatory Officer in the Water Supply Regulation Team, DRDMW.

Ed grew up in Cairns, with connections to the Torres Strait Islands (Badu Island) and works to engage and continuously improve water services within Indigenous communities. He said the conference “was a great opportunity to demonstrate the success of the Queensland government’s approach to ensuring safe, secure, and reliable drinking water services to all communities in Queensland.

 “It was interesting to see the comparisons between us and other jurisdictions and how we regulate our water; some mentioned how they don’t know how many communities are out there, little on what their water quality data is.

“Another interesting point raised by one of the presenters was the cost of servicing remote communities versus the value of drinking water. I guess that’s where you start looking at health implications and the cost of extra services you need to add.

“The team from DRDMW was excited about the opportunity of exchanging their experiences and developing some networks with other water people at the conference. The big takeaway for me was the chance to network with likeminded people in the industry and work out opportunities where we can exchange challenges and achievements on providing safe drinking throughout our communities; those networks showed interest in the Queensland Indigenous Councils Water Operators Network (QICWON), group and how they could create something similar or be part of the group.”

Nic Sabatino and Chris Blake with Jackie Mahoney
Nic Sabatino and Chris Blake with Jackie Mahoney

The Voices for the Bush Online Platform now includes access to on-demand sessions from the event for conference delegates. Anyone who couldn’t attend the conference but would like to watch the recorded sessions is invited to purchase an online registration.

 All photos from the event are available to view and download on the AWA photo gallery.