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Byron Shire
August 12, 2022

Ballina council refuses to help pay volunteer flood recovery team’s rent

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Help this way at Wardell CORE. Photo Venetia Scott.

The future of a volunteer-led community disaster recovery response group on the Northern Rivers remains in jeopardy after a local council voted against subsidising its rent.

A majority of Ballina Shire councillors voted against Independent Councillor Jeff Johnson’s proposal last month to pay 75% of the rent for community group Wardell CORE for the financial year ending June 2023.

The rent subsidy would have cost the council $20,000, with the money to come from a state-sponsored Local Government Recovery Grants Program worth $2.375 million.

Staff said it was up to the council to distribute the funds, with state approval, and Cr Johnson’s motion showed the bulk of the program’s money would be dedicated to fixing roads.

‘Part of the purpose of this money Council’s received is to help people affected by the floods,’ Cr Johnson told June’s ordinary meeting.

‘I think this small level of support, from a grant fund designed for this, will hopefully help ensure that they can maintain those services or even grow the services and support that they’re offering for people in need,’ Cr Johnson continued.

The council’s subsequent unsupportive vote concerning Wardell CORE’s headquarters was the third in recent meetings.

Gov’t fails to support community-led disaster response service

In late May, the council confirmed a controversial stated preference for another group to continue operating out of the Wardell and District War Memorial Hall.

Submissions on the council’s proposal to renew a lease of the hall to the Wardell and District Progress Association closed last week, with the new lease due to take effect this month.

While criticisms were made of the council’s failure to officially invite expressions of interest for the hall’s future use, organisers of Wardell CORE had already literally moved on.

The group was responsible for a large and diverse supply of donated goods for flood survivors that had to be stored while organisers searched for a new base.

People who were sleeping in tents or cars by the side of the road or in their backyards were still using the service to access essential goods and welfare support, co-organiser Joel Orchard told The Echo last month.

Wardell CORE’s new home in the town’s old bank building wasn’t big enough to house the goods and lacked suitable accessibility, Mr Orchard said.

By July, organisers were speaking out of an increasing demand for warm bedding and clothes.

Overnight temperatures in the region were dropping below five degrees Celsius, with frequent rain and occasional strong winds adding to the harsh climate conditions.

More than four months after floods first devastated the region in late February, the community response group was still not receiving any official support and was having to find $550 each week for rent to a private landlord.

A donations jar sat on the counter inside Wardell CORE’s supply centre, with monies received going towards the costs of rent.

Meanwhile, June’s ordinary Ballina council meeting heard the Wardell and District Progress Association would only have to pay the council $535 each year to rent the memorial hall.

Ballina council won’t ‘even throw a bone’ to Wardell CORE, says Dicker

Greens Councillor Kiri Dicker told fellow councillors at the meeting the Wardell CORE rent donations jar only had some $360 in it when she visited recently.

She said she suspected group members were helping pay the rest of the rent, evoking an unsustainable tenure for the volunteer group responding to urgent needs of some of those faced with the toughest odds on the Northern Rivers.

The councillor said there was ‘not a single shop or anything open in the main street’ when she visited late on a Friday afternoon and ‘there must have been 70 people there’.

People had come from villages as near and far as Empire Vale and Pimlico, Cr Dicker said.

The Greens councillor described the primarily flood affected people sharing a meal together, building social connections, and laughing.

‘This is exactly the kind of service that we need to build community resilience and fight the scourge of social isolation that is exacerbated by disasters,’ Cr Dicker said, ‘and we just won’t even throw them a bone’.

‘I mean, $20,000 is one per cent of a state government grant designed specifically to support resilience,’ she said.

Cr Dicker voted in support of Cr Johnson’s motion for the council to help pay rent costs for Wardell CORE, along with Independent Cr Rodney Bruem.

The council’s other Greens member, Simon Chate, was absent from the vote, having declared an interest in the matter.

Majority of councillors support status-quo

But Mayor Sharon Cadwallader won her vote against the proposal, with the support of Crs Eoin Johnston, Stephen McCarthy, Nigel Buchanan, Eva Ramsey and Phillip Meehan.

Cr Meehan was the first to speak against the motion, saying he ‘applauded’ the efforts of Wardell CORE but couldn’t justify allocating public money toward’s the group’s private rental costs.

The independent councillor said he understood the state’s Resilience NSW was providing flood recovery help and that Wardell CORE was therefore a duplication of existing services.

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  1. I drove all the way from Victoria to donate possessions I had in storage to the Wardell CORE and other flood victims and their own council won’t help them?????? SHAME!!

  2. Whaaaaaat !
    Who are these low-lives who are holding the community response to ransom, to the tune of $20,000 +?
    How did private profiteers get control of this community asset ?
    Can the architects of this travesty of social investment ( council ? ) be held responsible for perpetrating such anti-social purloining of assets, designed to cater for local needs ?
    This isn’t a question of who pays the extortion, but why has this private profiteer been allowed to swindle flood victims.
    Who is ultimately to blame, the incompetent council or the rip-off , capitalist, antisocial opportunists ?
    Do we have the option of public flogging ? If not , why not ?
    Cheers, G”)

  3. Looks like Mayor Sharon Cadwallader casting her vote (with the support of Crs Eoin Johnston, Stephen McCarthy, Nigel Buchanan, Eva Ramsey and Phillip Meehan) ‘against’ the proposal to support Wardell CORE – in a region that was heavily impacted – shows that this set of Councillors have more sesitivity for tar and seal than helping flood victims.

    I can’t believe it. Sometimes I think they believe their pure reason to exist is to deny a decent life to those in the Shire’s with real needs. They have such a strong element of inhumaness flowing through their viens – their decison-making leaves me gobsmacked.

    1% – of the $millions coming from Federal Government, and they say NO! They are disgusting …

    Local Government Recovery Grants Program is worth $2.375 million, and they can’t approve that 1% be allocated to an entity supporting those that Council – clearly have no intention of helping. What a sad sack of spuds exist as a majority …

  4. A ‘being’ aint necessarily ‘human’. Hum-drum users
    are often bent to the core. Don’t shop or stay there.

  5. Recovery money to go for ROADS is insane! When the next flood smashes the roads again the people will be cheated twice. How dare you put roads before welfare! People need help, food & housing, not an ugly fascist council.


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