By Phil Jarratt
Sandy Bolton only knows two speeds: flat-out and sauv blanc sunset. Fortunately, we’re into the latter when we meet on her sun-sprinkled deck looking through the trees to a quiet stretch of the Noosa River, and the energetic MP for Noosa is ready to take half an hour to reflect on the campaign so far.
Can you tell us about where you live?
We [Sandy, her partner bowls legend Ian “Shoey” Schuback and rescue dog Jet] had to leave our forever home of 27 years at Cooroibah and downsize because we we’re never there. We’ve moved into a place that gives us enormous peace and happiness, amongst the kookaburras and the ‘roos on the North Shore. I’m a Piscean but I haven’t lived waterside since I was a kid, so now the moment I drive onto the ferry and look at that glistening water becalms me.
Why have you decided to run again for Noosa?
Simply because we have amazing momentum, which is invaluable. What we’ve achieved and will continue to achieve, the partnerships made, the relationships within and with all levels of government, is irreplaceable. We’ve come out of an emergency and made a significant recovery, and now we are in thrive mode. We’ve done a lot of work to put us in this place, including through the business roundtable which we set up at the beginning of Covid. The opportunities now are incredible. This is my and my family’s home, and this is where I’ll die. I want to make sure that we are in a position of strength and surety way beyond this pandemic.
Politics is a lifestyle of highs and lows, as you know, having lost the mayoral race in 2016, then coming back a year later to win the State seat as Noosa’s first true independent. How do you handle those ups and downs?
I consider Noosa my family, so it’s not about me winning or losing. This election is part of a much longer journey for all of our community. When I lost the mayoralty, it was the voice of the people, and I accepted that. It’s the same now. Our residents will always decide what’s best for them, and I have full faith in that.
What makes this election different from any other?
The physical restrictions on campaigning make it very difficult. There is nothing like the energy that comes from a gathering of good people with good intent. As everyone knows, I’m a hugger, and not being able to do that is really hard, especially when people are hurting.
The other difference is that the majority are predicted to vote postal or pre-poll with perhaps only 20 percent voting on election day. It’s shifting sands. So far there seems very little interest in the election because the focus is on borders and reconnecting with loved ones.
Which is an election issue.
It is now, but it might not be come the election with the November 1 date in the air. Those interested want to know what the policies are right now, so it’s changed the timing of communications. That applies to the Electoral Commission also as we still do not know answers to many of our questions surrounding pre-poll etiquette.
Isn’t it weird that the situation we’re in dictates that people have to make their voting decisions earlier than normal, but the volatility of the situation also means that the information they need to make their decision is changing every day?
The shifting sands are challenging, but we’re fortunate in Noosa regarding our Covid recovery. We’ve seen property prices sky-rocket, however this is contributing to our crisis in affordable rentals for our workers. Tourism has recovered to a degree because Noosa is known to respond well to a crisis, and we were the only place in Queensland to initiate a Covid business roundtable, for example. And now that Queenslanders and interstaters are questioning whether they need to go back to the office after working remotely, we are seeing that Noosa is where they want to resettle, and why wouldn’t they?
What are the important issues for Noosa?
If we are talking in relation to Covid, our businesses are looking for surety that as we recover we don’t have setbacks, and that includes the issue of getting staff back. Reports that property prices have been pushed up is amplifying that issue. Our previous heavy reliance on 457 visa holders also puts us in a precarious position. For our businesses and our community to thrive, we need staff, and that means affordable accommodations. Our newly formed Project Action Group is looking at options, for example whether any smaller resorts who are projecting lower occupancy for another year, may transition into longer term tenancies. The question here is do we need to build it, or can we repurpose to create space?
Commercial tenancies are another issue, and we don’t quite know how that will play out at this time while we work with our Commissioner, but the idea that all commercial landlords are wealthy simply isn’t true. Some may be carrying big mortgages and are unable to help tenants into the future. One thing we can all be doing, and this applies across the state, is buying local rather than sending money outside the community.
But what about people in the street? What are they most concerned about?
Mostly they are asking when. When will we have surety? When does this end? It doesn’t matter what age group we’re talking about, they may have different reasons but they’re all asking when?
And how does the independent MP for Noosa answer that?
Government I see is a reflection of the collective feeling, and part of that is the transition from when to how. In other words, what do we do if there is no vaccine for a long time, how do we work around that? It may be that if someone gets the virus, we hunker them and our vulnerable down, while the rest get on with their lives. Some of our elderly residents have said they are feeling bad that precautions taken for them are affecting their families and the community, and that it’s time for their children and grandchildren to be allowed to get on with it. The word on the street, and via my inbox, is that locking down whole states moving forward is unsustainable, and that this is something they fear.
Why should the people of Noosa vote for you?
They know that every single day in every single way, I put them first and foremost. I work hard and take on board all viewpoints, research objectively, and in doing that I say what needs to be said, without blame or needing to cover for someone. That’s something MP’s with major parties unfortunately are not in a position to do. I am unashamedly Noosa-centric, without any allegiance other than to this community. And as an Independent I work with all sides at all levels. A huge benefit for Noosa in getting done what’s needed to be done.