True colours shining through

NSW Rugby League knock-out life member Phillip Hall addresses an extraordinary Lismore City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

Shame on you, shame on all seven of you, Youre nothing but a bunch of rednecks, You had a chance to make a real difference, Youre a disgrace. These were just some of the sentiments that erupted from the packed gallery of Lismore City Council on Tuesday night after Council voted 7-5 to oppose the 37th NSW Annual Aboriginal Rugby League Knock-out coming to Lismore.

Former league star and one of the Bundjalung organisers Chris Binge said it wasnt over by a long way and you can take the Koori flag off the building.

Then Binge quietened the angry crowd outside with an impassioned speech urging the crowd to go and register to vote.

We need to get more of our people sitting round that table, he said. Unless you are willing to do that, not much is going to change.

Council later went into damage control, unanimously rescinding the offending motion and passing a new motion in support of further workshopping to allow the event to happen this year.

The extraordinary meeting was packed to over-flowing and began with Phillip Hall and Ray Davison from the Merritt-Pattern Redfern Rugby League Club using the public access period to express their sadness and dismay about a letter they had received from mayor Merv King. The mayors letter stated that issues surrounding a lack of accommodation and public transport meant he would not be supporting the carnival.

We dont anticipate 10,000 people, weve never had 10,000 people said Mr Hall. Sixty three teams turned up in Dubbo. That was 5,000 people. Thats the largest crowd weve ever had.

He said 21 of the teams in this years knock-out were local. Which meant out of the potential 5000 people attending, more than half would be from the local area.

So we really only have to house 2000 people, he said.

Mr Hall continued that as far as transport was concerned, they planned to provide 20 buses to transport people from where the XPT stops in Casino.

But most people will just drive their car, he said.

We have no problems at all with security, Mr Hall told council. We have Aboriginal liaison officers with the police for the entire carnival.

This whole structure (of the carnival) is all about kids. If a place has problems with their kids thats where we go, Mr Hall said. We have under 6s, under 11s and under 13s competitions so our kids have an opportunity to get seen and to get into the NRL (National Rugby League).

The Bundjalung people have done well in all our carnivals and we wanted to honour them with a carnival in their area, Mr Hall told the meeting.

After his submission half a dozen people, including several non-Aboriginal people, spoke passionately in opposition to the mayors letter and in favour of the event.

Here is a chance for you as councillors to stand with us in the Aboriginal community, said Chris Binge who has been part of the push to get the carnival hosted in Lismore. To make a difference, to be a real part of reconciliation.

He also presented a petition signed by local CBD businesses supporting the event.

This is a hugely important cultural event for Aboriginal people said Department of Youth and Community manager Lisa Gava. If you let this go, you are making a huge mistake.

Cr Merv King then called on councillors to support his decision to advise organisers that Lismore would not host the carnival.

He said he had made enquiries and discovered that 70 per cent of beds in Lismore were already booked for the October long weekend.

Also public transport in Lismore during the October long weekend is virtually non-existent, Cr King said.

The mayor also said police had some concerns about crowd safety and traffic.

This is a no win situation, no matter what, Cr Ros Irwin countered. It was a request to Council, not to you Mr Mayor, and by you making that decision (the letter) I think you have shown them (the Aboriginal community) great disrespect.

Many of the councillors choked back tears as they pleaded with the proponents of the motion to change their minds and support the event. Cr David Tomlinson rattled off a list of regional centres, including Burke, Armidale, Nambucca Heads and Dubbo that had successfully hosted the event.

Walgett managed to host this event, and they only have two motels, Cr Tomlinson said.

This event has become a part of Aboriginal history. But theres more than that, theres the economic benefits too.

At this stage Cr Brian Henry introduced the spectre of crowd violence to the debate.

One of the issues we have here is fan rage, post event, he said.

Cr Henry then proposed an addendum to the motion that Council develop a safety and security policy for all events and the carnival be postponed until 2008 when that plan was drawn up.

This is all about timing, unfortunately, he said. To put together a policy, you cannot do it overnight with due diligence. And events take time to organise.

Cr Swientek, in a stinging rebuke, labelled Cr Henrys suggestion as weasel words.

Cr Irwin said she found the addendum to be a very nifty and convenient way to get council off the hook. She then asked Cr Henry if he had consulted with the carnival planners, whether they would be interested in bringing the carnival to Lismore in 2008. Cr Henry said no.

Cr Dowell pointed out the new safety policy would mean the Masters Games would have to be deferred for a year while they drew up a security plan for it as well.

Finally after much ado the council voted 7-5 to oppose the event, with councillors Chant, Hampton, Henry, Graham, Meineke, King and Crimmins voting to postpone the event till 2008. This unleashed the tempest of grief and frustration that began this article. One word echoed above them all shame. Meanwhile back in the chamber, Phillip Hall, life member of the NSW annual league knock-out and project organiser sat waiting. And when the chamber was virtually empty of any audience, Cr Irwin asked him if they had a risk management plan. Mr Hall said: Sure, weve been running this event for 36 years, what do you reckon? He then went on to itemise the procedures and name the Aboriginal liaison officers that they used to manage the event.

Then something almost magical happened. Cr Irwin asked if she put forward a recision motion whether it would be supported. Crs Chant and Henry nodded. So they voted, and the motion which had caused so much grief and hurt was overturned unanimously. And once again the people of Lismore started down the long road to reconciliation.

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