BATHURST councillors are right to say they want to see ratepayers’ money spent properly, but they need to be careful about the battles they choose to fight.
A number of councillors – most vocally Bobby Bourke and Alex Christian – have spoken out about their concern over the amount of money Bathurst Regional Council is spending on Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessments (ACHA).
The most recent focus is the DA for a new go kart track on McPhillamy Park at the top of Mount Panorama. A recent report to councillors revealed council had spent $55,130 in consultants’ fees to prepare an ACHA on the go kart track site anthropological studies to accompany the assessment had cost a further $89,600.
General manager David Sherley also revealed that the bill for cultural assessments on sites right across the region had topped the $500,000 mark, raising even more eyebrows.
Perhaps the most contentious bills, though, were the fees paid out to Registered Aboriginal Parties for their input into the heritage assessments.
Up to eight RAPs are eligible to take part in the assessment process for any sites on Mount Panorama, and each is entitled to send a representative to witness any survey work carried out as part of the assessment.
Those representatives can then bill council for their time, at a rate of $400 a day. Those fees soon add up and council has paid out $37,840 to RAPs in relation to the go kart track alone.
That’s certainly a lot of money, and the fact the most recent surveys found no physical evidence of any cultural significance might concern the sceptics.
But it is not a lot of money in the context of the income Bathurst draws from the Mount each year and is not an area where councillors should be pressuring staff to make savings.
In short, this is money that must be spent – as much in acknowledgment of the Mount’s cultural significance as acknowledgment of errors made in the past.
We have not always given Aboriginal heritage the respect and regard it deserves, and the whole community is poorer for it.
If developers - including councils – are now required to be overly cautious to avoid repeating those mistakes then that’s just how it needs to be.
And when that comes at a cost, it’s simply the price we have to pay.