In an embarrassing backflip, Broken Hill City Council, led by Mayor Tom Kennedy, has decided to pay for a Welcome to Country ceremony during NAIDOC Week after previously saying no further payments would be made for the traditional ceremonies.
When he announced the Council decision to halt payments, in a move that’s caused a serious breakdown in relations between Council and the local Aboriginal community, the Mayor failed to mention Council had already committed to having an Indigenous Ceremony at this year’s NAIDOC Week celebrations.
Mayor Kennedy said after Wednesday’s full Council meeting, “it simply wasn’t fair for council to change the policy and not at least commit to the things that were already in planning”.
It’s not clear why payment for NAIDOC Week ceremonies wasn’t mentioned when a majority of councillors decided to stop payments immediately, or why the policy wasn’t timed to begin after NAIDOC Week.
When asked by the Truth if more exemptions were likely to happen down the track, Cllr Kennedy doubled down on the controversial decision to cease paying for the Welcome to Country and other traditional ceremonies.
“No. NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week, which also went ahead after the ceremonial civic ceremony policy was adopted. Those were the two events that were already in the pipeline, so that’s why we required a motion of council to make sure this event was funded.”
The decision to cease payments was – again, controversially – made during Reconciliation Week which led to claims the council were ‘tone deaf’ in choosing to announce the move during such an important cultural week.
On Wednesday evening, Cllr Kennedy was keen to push the narrative of the expense of the services being the driving force for the original stop-payments decision being made.
“It adds up to about $1150 for the full Welcome to Country ceremony. And that’s a lot of money for people to paying out,” Cllr Kennedy said.
He broke down the cost of the individual services that make up the $1150, not all of which may feature in any Council agreed ceremony.
“It is $250 for the Welcome to Country, an additional $150 for in language, $300 for the smoking ceremony, plus another $250 to raise the Aboriginal flag by an elder and between $150 and $200 for the playing of the didgeridoo. That is a total of between $1100 and $1150,” Cllr Kennedy explained.
Mayor Kennedy is currently the subject of a Council Code of Conduct investigation brought by the local Wilyakali Aboriginal Corporation who complained they believed the Mayor failed to adhere to Council’s social media policy by allowing often allegedly racist comments from followers to remain live online for an extended period.