Byron Shire Council has withdrawn $10,000 worth of funding for the Byron Schoolies HUB at a time when the town is awash with alcohol.
The council last week announced it will divert money it had earmarked for the HUB for a range of summer activities, including a ‘cultural and creative response to NYE and the wider summer holiday period’.
Despite describing himself as ‘a huge supporter’ Byron mayor Simon Richardson told Echonetdaily the council could not afford to continue to fund the group’s efforts and urged them to seek more support from the businesses that most benefit from Schoolies Week.
But Schoolies HUB coordinator Nicqui Yazdi says the group already gets almost half of its funding from business associations.
‘For the past couple of years Byron United, the Byron Liquor Accord and the Holiday Letting Organisation have each contributed $3,000 from their membership fees to engaging a part time coordinator for the Byron Schoolies Safety Response,’ she told Echonetdaily.
Not all businesses benefit
But she added, ‘not all businesses in Byron benefit from Schoolies, with many of them saying that this is the least productive time for them’.
‘The fact is, that these young visitors have limited funds, which come down to really three things: accommodation, food and, unfortunately, alcohol.’
She said that given the decision had been made so late in the year, the HUB is now locked in a race against time to find alternative funding.
‘There is now less than seven months to come up with over $10,000 to finance the basic essentials that make this safety response happen. We are talking about the HUB marquee itself, the astro-turf flooring, the electrical fitout, the fees for the DA and the temporary licence for use of Council-owned or controlled land, insurance fees, all lighting in the park and over Fishheads and any donations towards essential training of HUB volunteers or any of the other items needed in the HUB.’
Mayor Richardson said the decision reflected the tougher financial context in which Council is now operating. He added that the council already spent $20,000 towards the costs of Schoolies.
But Ms Yazdi said none of that money went to the HUB.
‘The $20,000 is for things Council are obliged to do such as extra cleaning, rubbish removal, lifeguards etcetera.
‘In fact the only thing that Council has committed to do in 2013 that benefits the HUB is to supply the volunteers with parking permits that will allow them to park for the duration of their four hour shifts without getting a parking fine,’ she said.
Federal an example
Cr Richardson said, however, the new discipline placed on councils was also an opportunity for the community to step up to the plate.
‘I’m a huge supporter of the work done by the Schoolies Safety Working Group. I volunteer every year at the HUB,’ he said.
‘It was a difficult decision to transfer some funds from this year’s schoolies to help develop a cultural and creative response to NYE and the wider summer holiday period.
‘However, the challenge laid down by Council’s finances also creates an opportunity for individuals and businesses to re-engage with our community.
‘The residents of Federal, who managed to save their beloved church, are a great example. What started as a campaign that sought Council financial help blossomed into a community-owned effort that raised more than $200,000 to buy the church; something Council could have never afforded to do. It also strengthened community ties by giving Federal residents a chance to work together for a common cause.
‘At the same time, councillors recognised that the benefits of schoolies largely accrue to private interests, including local businesses. If every business that uses the schoolies HUB to promote itself each contributes $100–200, this would go a long way to equalling the funds Council has diverted from schoolies to other summer events.’
He added that offers of contributions had already begun to flow on social media, something Ms Yazdi also acknowledged.
But she added it could change the way the town treats the event.
‘We don’t want to promote Schoolies in Byron and didn’t want it to be a commercial thing but if we need commercial ventures on board to sponsor us, we will have to do that.’
She added that working to raise funds in $100 and $200 lots would amount to considerable extra work.
‘I write grant applications all year round – I’ve written two in the last couple of weeks. But from here until November there is not much available and the turnaround on grants is not fast.
‘This is a massive step backwards,’ she said.