Further to the statement Murrindindi Shire Council released on Facebook on 25 January regarding the Yumaanda Gathering, an unauthorised music and cultural event that occurred from 22 – 26 January in Rubicon, I’d like to provide an update to the community about the event, including Council’s response to the breach of the Murrindindi Planning Scheme.
Unfortunately, as previously stated, the event organisers, a not-for-profit music, dance and cultural association, chose not to follow Council’s advice and continued with the event. Based on legal advice, Council had insufficient time to seek and obtain an interim enforcement order from VCAT to stop the event. I was also advised by Victoria Police not to attempt to break-up or stop the event at that very late stage as it could potentially create greater risks for event attendees and the community.
It is unfortunate that the event went ahead without the proper permits in place from Council and other regulatory authorities, including the Country Fire Authority, Victoria Police, the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning and Goulburn Broken Catchment Authority. Council is not the responsible authority for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions and these matters were referred to the appropriate State Government Department.
Over the weekend of the event, Council officers and Victoria Police patrolled the event. Despite the event proceeding, at all the times the event organisers were co-operative and worked with Council to ensure the health and safety of patrons and to make sure appropriate measures were in place to avoid impacts on the environment. Victoria Police were satisfied at the conclusion of the event that it was managed appropriately and that they would not be pursuing the matter any further.
The land owner has expressed regret and the event organiser has provided a statement to Council acknowledging the breach and the impacts it has had on the community, expressing remorse and a desire to work constructively with Council and the community moving forward.
The landowner will be issued with a written warning. While they relied on the event organisers to ensure compliance with all laws, it is their responsibility as land owners to make sure appropriate permissions have been sought before allowing an event to take place on their land.
The event organisers carry great culpubaility by not contacting Council for relevant approvals prior to the event taking place. While it is recognised that the event organisers had a genuine belief that statutory approvals were not required, there could have been significant impacts to the community. The event raised considerable anxiety within the community with respect to the possible detrimental impacts this event could have relating to noise, fire risk, the spread of COVID-19 and poor patron behaviour.
Additional strain was placed on emergency service agencies, including volunteer-based organisations, and Council to put in place last minute contingencies for patrols and possible emergency response, during what was already shaping up to be a busy long weekend, with high visitation levels and temperatures expected across the Shire.
Fortunately, the event did not result in any significant adverse outcomes. Again, while we are disappointed the event proceeded despite Council’s advice, we acknowledge the contrition of the event organisers in respect to the breach and the cooperative attitude that was taken to requests from both Council and Victoria Police.
We also checked with other Council’s where events had been run by the same organisation and received positive references, with no evidence of detrimental community impacts.
Council has concluded that prosecution, with the threat of a very significant monetary penalty and possible conviction, is not the most appopriate outcome for this situation. Based on legal advice received, it was also determined that Council would be unlikely to be successful, in this case, in claiming punative and legal costs which would be sufficient to cover the costs of taking the matter to court.
Instead, the event organisers have agreed to undertake community work under Council’s direction. This will consist of a minimum of 450 hours (the equivalent of one full-time person working for 11 weeks) of environmental works to be undertaken across the Shire. The works will involve native vegetation restoration and weed removal. Other than the cost of plants (which are already sourced by Council), all costs associated with attendance and conduct of the works will be borne by the event organiser. The small cost to Council to organise these works by way of administration will be significantly offset by the benefit to the community.
I see this as an acceptable and proactive outcome that provides some benefit back to the Murrindindi Shire community. It also provides a consequence to the event organisation for the breach of the Murrindindi Planning Scheme.