Ballina Shire Council has received a penalty notice for disturbing Aboriginal objects during the construction of the shared path.
Ballina Shire Council has received a penalty notice for disturbing Aboriginal objects during the construction of the shared path.

‘Deeply sorry’: Council fined for disturbance of artefacts

THE disturbance of Aboriginal artefacts during work on a major Ballina Shire project has led to a fine and official warning for the council.

The incident happened between August 21 and September 19 last year, during works on The Coast Rd for the shared path.

A letter from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment to the council explained their inquiries found the Aboriginal objects were harmed "due to the unearthing and the subsequent movement of a cluster of objects".

The department also found the stop work procedure was not followed, and told the council a "defence to the offence is not available to you".

A $1500 penalty notice and official warning was issued to the council.

But in June this year, the council wrote to the department, asking for the penalty notice to be withdrawn.

The council said it had never denied a cluster of Aboriginal objects was unearthed and moved, but was "deeply sorry".

"As soon as council's officers became aware of the alleged breach on 19 September 2019, it was immediately reported to DPIE," civil services director John Truman explained in the letter.

"The artefacts were not destroyed, they were securely stored by the contractor in their onsite facilities.

"Regrettably, this storage was not visible to council's officers.

"The development of this project has involved extensive consultation with representatives from the local Aboriginal community over many years.

"Therefore council itself is very disappointed that the cultural heritage assessment procedures were not followed as expected.

"We regret this incident has occurred, however we also submit the council has an active program in respect of cultural heritage, we provide direct support and consultation with the local Aboriginal community and we have successfully completed many projects involving sensitive cultural heritage issues.

"We have responded by reviewing our procedures to determine how this type of incident can be avoided in the future."

The director of the department's biodiversity and conservation division, Russell Madeley, responded to Mr Truman last month and said an internal review had been conducted.

He said while the council's efforts were appreciated, the review had found the penalty notice "was the most appropriate regulatory response to the incident, and the penalty notice will not be withdrawn".


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