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Financial scar tallied: ratepayers chip in $327.7K

Geoff Helisma |

Costs associated with Clarence Valley Council’s guilty plea in the Land and Environment Court, regarding the “reckless” destruction of an Aboriginal scarred tree at the corner of Breimba and Dovedale streets, Grafton, were tabled at yesterday’s council meeting.

The agenda item was the result of Cr Karen Toms gaining her fellow councillors’ support at the February council meeting, to have a “a separate financial report” tabled “at the earliest possible convenience” that must report “the entire costs of this matter, including, but not limited to, the legal representation and administrative and support activities and all associated costs.

Costs reported to council totalled $501,237.60, however, insurance paid a total of $128,460.85: $53,460.85 for legal fees, plus a $75,000 ex gratia payment.

Ratepayers will cover legal and penalty expenses totalling $327,776.75.

The report to council advised councillors “that the court finding of ‘recklessness’ triggered an [insurance] policy exclusion in relation to the statutory liability claim”, which is for councillors’ and senior staff’s eyes only.

Subsequently, a $75,000 ex-gratia payment was negotiated, “with a stipulation that the payment must not be allocated toward the penalty of $300,000”.

“The ex gratia payment is in addition to the coverage of legal costs up to the date of advice ($53,460.85),” the report to council stated.

On the insurance payout, the report to council advised: “The ex gratia payment of $75,000 has been allocated to cover court costs, costs associated with attendance in court and the Restorative Justice Conference [$23,099.36].

“An out of pocket balance of $27,776.75, in addition to the penalty of $300,000, remains to be funded by the General Fund.

“A budget variation of $327,776.75 is reported in the third quarter [March] quarterly budget review statement.”

The balance of costs were for court-directed advertising $16,705.28; insurance excess $10,000; travel, accommodation and meals $4,775.74; and, postage $30.37.

The estimated $45,000 for council staff’s “cultural skills development training”, as directed by the court, “will be funded from within section training budgets and the operational staff oncost budget”, the report to council stated.

The penalty ($300,000) has been paid to the Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council.

The court ordered the application of these funds “toward specific projects which are directly related to creating and promoting community awareness and education of Aboriginal cultural heritage”.

The projects, as listed in the report to council, are:

1. A feasibility study to establish a ‘Keeping Place’ in the Grafton area for Aboriginal cultural heritage items, including the long-term storage and/or display of the scar tree, and other items that have been repatriated that require restoration, storage and display for community members to visit for educational purposes;

2. Research into local Aboriginal cultural heritage, including scar trees, to inform the development of educational resources for the benefit of indigenous and non-indigenous people in the Grafton area to be toured in schools in 2019 and/or to establish a permanent exhibition in Grafton; and,

3. A series of one-day ‘Clarence Valley Healing Festivals’ to be held in the various local Aboriginal communities in the Clarence Valley throughout 2019 and 2020 to celebrate Aboriginal culture and promote reconciliation through dance, arts and crafts, food, medicine, language and elders talks on cultural heritage, including scar trees, and a display of artefacts, including the scar tree if the carving is portable.