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Who pays for CVC’s ‘reckless’ actions a mystery

Geoff Helisma |

A report on the outcome of Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) culpability, regarding the removal of an Aboriginal scarred tree in Grafton, was tabled at yesterday’s CVC meeting; however, who will end up paying for the council’s “reckless” actions remains a mystery.

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

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 the restorative justice conference (RJC), held with the land council on November 22, which was attended by the mayor and deputy mayor, on behalf of the elected council, eight CVC employees, including the general manager, Ashley Lindsay, and works and civil director, Troy Anderson, three managers and three members of CVC’s arboriculture team.

The report to council stated that “costs associated with attendance, legal representation and administrative and support activities conducted in relation to this matter … will be reported to Council, once reconciled, through a monthly financial budget variation report”.

When asked, how will the fine be paid: insurance or ratepayers? Mr Lindsay told the Independent in an emailed response that it “is yet to be determined” who would foot the bill.

Justice Preston writes in his judgment: “Publicising the detection, prosecution and punishment of the offence in newspapers and publicly available media improves deterrence of others who might be tempted to harm, or not take action to prevent harm to, Aboriginal objects.”

Further, Justice Preston states that the “Council had complete control over the causes giving rise to the offence” and that the tree’s removal by CVC’s “field operations staff … constituted a failure of the Council’s systems”.

The Independent put it to Mr Lindsay that “many ratepayers feel they are being punished as a result of [perceiving] they are collectively paying the costs” and asked “why no one has been held accountable internally and publically, given the judge stresses on multiple occasions the need for CVC to show the public it is serious about what has transpired”?

Mr Lindsay said he “believed Council has clearly demonstrated its remorse with respect to what has occurred with the destruction of the scar tree”.

As far as the outcomes of the RJC are concerned, the matter is “confidential between the parties”, the report to council stated, and the “matters contained within the restorative conference agreement are being progressed”.

“It is not appropriate for me to discuss or disclose any action taken against Council staff,” Mr Lindsay said.

The CVC meeting took place after this story was written.