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Scarred tree sentence pending ‘conferencing’

Geoff Helisma | The Land and Environment Court is due to hold a sentencing hearing on Monday December 10, regarding Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) guilty plea to the charge of “harming an Aboriginal object”, namely, the removal of a scarred tree at the corner of Breimba and Dovedale Streets, Grafton. At the primary sentencing hearing on October 24, Chief Judge Justice Brian Preston held sentencing over to enable a restorative justice conference (RJC) to be held between local Aboriginal community members and CVC before the December 10 hearing. At last week’s November 20 CVC meeting, councillors unanimously endorsed the mayor, Jim Simmons, and deputy mayor, Jason Kingsley, to represent CVC’s elected body at the RJC. “Justice Preston felt that it would be most beneficial for both parties to participate in this RJC, which he had previously used successfully in the case Garrett v Williams,” the report to council stated. “Restorative Justice Conferencing is designed to turn conflict into cooperation “The process achieves this transformation by allowing communities caught up in a complex system of relationships and histories to clarify what has happened, understand why events unfolded as they have, appreciate the consequences of the actions and, together, develop a plan to learn from the events and ensure they are not repeated.” Clarence Valley Council will bear the cost of the RJC. The offence, “A person must not harm or desecrate an Aboriginal object that the person knows is an Aboriginal object”, prescribes a maximum penalty of one-year’s imprisonment or a $275,000 fine for an individual, with a doubling of the imprisonment term and fine if the offence was committed “in circumstances of aggravation”. For corporations, the maximum fine is $1.1million. However, the report to last week’s CVC meeting noted that the court would apply a “financial penalty”. The report to the July 2018 council meeting stated that CVC’s internal investigation “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”. Councillors made a formal apology regarding the tree’s destruction at the July 24 CVC meeting.