Cultural base rates burden

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

The region’s Noongars say they need the same rates-free status enjoyed by churches to continue their cultural work in the region.

The Aboriginal cultural Wardan Centre on Caves Road has struggled with a mounting rates bill during the past five years, with negotiations between the centre’s custodians and the City of Busselton yet to provide any relief.

One of the centre’s founders, Wardandi elder Bill Webb, said the property was at risk of going into receivership with the City because of rates and power debts, but centre co-ordinator Mitchella Hutchens said the difficult situation was not that dire yet.

“The (City) dropped this huge and enormous rates bill on us that hadn’t been paid by the previous management,” she told the Times.

“We run as a not-for-profit. The tourism factor is something we do to promote Aboriginal heritage as a positive aspect.”

Ms Hutchens said it was in the region’s best interest to extend the same rates exemption churches enjoyed to Aboriginal cultural groups. “This is where we practise our culture,” she said.

Bibelmen-Mia Aboriginal Corporation secretary Joel Chapman declined to discuss negotiations involving the Wardan Centre because of legal proceedings.

However, he said a rates exemption for Aboriginal groups was appropriate.

“A cultural place like the centre, I think we should be exempt,” he said.

City of Busselton finance and corporate services director Tony Nottle said there was no application for a rates exemption in effect, with the City council knocking back a request in 2011, which also went unsupported by the Local Government Minister.

Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said ratings exemptions for wealthy religious organisations running as not-for-profits was a “frustration” to local government, but he believed smaller institutions like the Wardan Centre were primarily commercial.

“If one of the churches was running an art gallery at very inflated prices and not doing anything else, then we would take legal action,” he said.

Mr Nottle rejected claims a property seizure was planned by the City.

Mr Nottle said any ratepayer could apply for a rates exemption “if they feel they have a valid reason”.

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