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Councillors apologise for scarred tree’s destruction

Geoff Helisma | At the July 24 Clarence Valley Council meeting, councillors unanimously supported making an unreserved apology to the valley’s Aboriginal communities and to “express extreme remorse” for the destruction of an Aboriginal scarred tree on the corner of Breimba and Dovedale streets, Grafton. The council has reconsidered its position subsequent to the Independent reporting on July 4 that CVC had entered a guilty plea in the NSW Land and Environment Court on May 25, 2018. At that time, CVC acknowledged the guilty plea, but declined to comment further “while the matter is still before the court”. A further directions hearing will be held this Friday August 3 and the sentencing hearing will be held on October 24. The report to council reveals that the tree has been completely removed as a result of works undertaken in 2013 and 2016. In 2013, “council workers lopped the crown of the tree after the records of a previous arboriculture inspection deemed that the tree was in poor condition and posed risk to safety and property”, the report to council stated. Following the 2013 incident, for which CVC was fined $1,500; CVC told the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) that it would undertake certain actions, which were considered by OEH when determining the financial penalty. These actions included training staff (with reference to the OEH’s publication, Aboriginal scarred trees in NSW) and reviewing its “processes to ensure all approvals and assessments are completed”. The council also said it would “engage a consultant to prepare a Clarence Valley Aboriginal Heritage Study”. However, at the time of the scarred tree’s removal in 2016, none of the training strategies had been “attended to”. The Clarence Valley Aboriginal Heritage Study was completed by Australian Museum Consulting, and adopted by councillors on April 14, 2015. Subsequent to the tree’s removal in 2016, CVC completed staff training in December 2016 – refresher training was scheduled for July 2018. During debate and questions at the council meeting, Cr Karen Toms said it was “wonderful” that CVC was “finally being open and transparent”. Councillor Greg Clancy said he was “totally disgusted with what happened”. Councillor Richie Williamson he “was deeply saddened and embarrassed” and that he had “met with elders afterwards, who were deeply hurt”. He said to his fellow councillors: “I hope we strive and achieve better; we have come some way but, clearly, have a long way to go.” In her right of reply to the motion, Cr Toms said; “The buck stops with us. “I hope and expect something like this never, ever, happens again. “Of course we are sorry, but the punishment is still to come in October.” The maximum fine for a corporation is $1.1million. The council’s internal investigation, the report to council stated, “found that one staff member had breached council’s Code of Conduct [and], as a result, the staff member was disciplined within the provisions of the NSW Local Government (State) Award”.