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Councillor leads the way on CVC’s scar tree costs

Geoff Helisma |

After an hour of questions, claims, counter claims, points of order, mayoral out of order rulings and general argy bargy at last week’s February 26 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, one councillor, Karen Toms, stood above the rest, leading seven of her colleagues to agree that CVC must compile a report outlining all of the costs associated with the removal of an Aboriginal scar tree in Grafton in 2016.

The Land and Environment Court’s Chief Judge Justice Brian John Preston SC wrote in his judgement that CVC “accepted the prosecutor’s submission that the offence can be characterised as reckless”.

The known costs to date total $361,000: a $300,000 fine paid to Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council on January 11; prosecutor’s costs of $48,000, cheque mailed on January 11; and, $13,000 to cover the cost of a restorative justice conference.

The report to council, written by Works and Civil director Troy Anderson and reviewed by general manager Ashley Lindsay, recommended that it be “received … and its contents noted”.

Mr Anderson, who was cross examined during the trial, was named in the judgement as the provider of CVC’s affidavit, as read out to the court.

Councillor Toms’ successful amendment to the recommendation, which was moved by Cr Andrew Baker and seconded by Cr Richie Williams, means that “a separate financial report” will be tabled at a council meeting “at the earliest possible convenience” and must report “the entire costs of this matter, including, but not limited to, the legal representation and administrative and support activities and all costs associated with the matter”.

Without Cr Tom’s amendment, these cost would have been “reported to Council, once reconciled, through a monthly financial budget variation report”, as recommended by Mr Anderson.

However, after so much discussion about what councillors could say about staff, what type of questioning of staff was appropriate and whether or not the document generated by the restorative justice conference should be confidential, no other councillor spoke directly to Cr Toms’ amendment.

Only Cr Arthur Lysaught opposed it, however, when the final vote was taken on the two-point motion, the vote was unanimous.

In his right of reply to the two-part motion, Cr Baker chastised councillors Toms, Debrah Novak and Greg Clancy (without naming them), whom, in his view, had attempted to “to try and reach [their] hands into individual matters, as though they are somehow more important than other operational matters”.

Councillor Toms interjected with a point of order and asked: “Shouldn’t the debate be on the matter before us, not attacking councillors?”

Councillor Baker retorted: “Matters raised in debate go way outside the motion, but I’ll go on a merry chase.

“When the next education session comes up for councillors we will once again go over what councillors’ responses are when delving into operational matters, or not.

“Apart from that Mr Mayor I commend this motion.”