'Race card' thrown at residents
THE Australian Human Rights Commission is investigating complaints of racism in West Ballina.
At least 15 residents have received official letters from the commission, citing concerns about "discrimination based on racial hatred".
The complaints were in relation to the furore over the Aboriginal Child and Family Centre, which Ballina Shire Council has approved for Porter Park.
But the facility's location at the park has caused tension within the community over the past 18 months.
A residents' group was formed and the council held a public hearing in relation to the reclassification of the park in June last year, which was attended by more than 200 people.
This was followed by heated debate before the council approved the application in December last year.
Objectors have always stated that their concerns with the development were to do with its location, not race.
Despite that, the Human Rights Commission is now involved, although it is not known who made the complaints.
A spokeswoman for the social justice unit said she could not confirm complaints had been made.
"I am not able to say ... because we have privacy obligations," she said.
Ross Pickering from the Save Porter Park Action Group said he was one of "16 or 17 people" to receive a letter from the Human Rights Commission.
"The complaint made against me was about my comments at the hearing that elderly and illiterate people on Cabbage Tree Island were being coerced into signing form letters," he said.
"They are saying I said that everyone on Cabbage Tree Island was illiterate.
"This is a feeble attempt at intimidation. Nobody has, at any stage, brought up the race card.
"We have always stated that we are keen for this centre to go ahead, we just don't want it in Porter Park."
Mr Pickering said the commission advised him it would consider responses to complaints before deciding whether to take the matter further.
Some of the options being put forward by the commission include public apologies, conciliation sessions and donations to the Aboriginal Child and Family Centre.
Nita Roberts, general manager of Bunjum Aboriginal Co-op, which will operate the centre, was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline. Chairwoman of the centre's Local Reference Group, Lenkunyar Roberts-Hickling, was not contactable.