CITY of Newcastle chief executive Jeremy Bath has hit out at the organisation that holds $1 million in assets from the 1989 Lord Mayor's Earthquake Appeal, saying it has refused to meet with the council for nearly two years.
Mr Bath said meeting the directors of the Newcastle Region Natural Disaster Relief Fund Trustee Ltd was on his "to-do" list when he began the job in December, 2017.
He said the historic Shepherd's Hill cottage next to King Edward Park had been badly damaged in the 2015 "east coast low" storm, and the council had already spent almost $730,000 on repairs and restoration. It wanted to ask about applying for a grant to cover half of the remaining $800,000 it needed to spend.
Mr Bath said the board and it's point of contact, Forsythes, had ignored or rebuffed a number of emails and letters since February 2018, and provided a chain of emails and "unanswered letters" to support his account.
"The community has every right to be outraged that 30 years after the Newcastle earthquake, this fund is sitting there with $1 million controlled by three people who don't want to be contacted," Mr Bath said.
"Their refusal to meet or even respond in a meaningful way to the council is one thing. Even more concerning is that the trust doesn't promote itself or even have a website that victims of natural disaster can apply for funding through."
The chair of the fund, Newcastle solicitor and businessman Michael Johns, acknowledged the letters and emails from Mr Bath. But he said he believed the board had dealt with the matter properly.
The Herald had also found it hard to obtain information - in our case in connection with tomorrow's 30th anniversary of the earthquake - but Mr Johns said there were processes to go through, such as the board needing to obtain a current set of accounts before answering questions.
He said the board would meet in January and discuss the council's proposal, but his initial belief was that it did not meet the funding criteria.
Mr Johns said it was likely that he and the remaining two directors would vote during January to wind up the trust, and to hand its remaining assets to another charity, possibly Newcastle Permanent Building Society's charitable foundation.
ASIC records show that Johns is 70. The other directors are Barrie Lewis - Newcastle council's earthquake-era town clerk - Mr Bath's chief executive role is the modern equivalent - and Glendale woman Margaret Murray, 68, who was seconded from the Department of Community Services after the quake to work with the the lord mayor's appeal and its original chairman, Alwyn Druce.
Mr Johns said Druce and some of the other original directors had died in recent years, and the board had not been able to find suitable people to replace them.
He said all of the money that had passed through the fund had been properly accounted for and there was only $160,000 in four earthquake-era loans to be repaid.
Once the earthquake fund was broadened to become a regional appeal, all of the money distributed had been as grants rather than loans.
Mr Johns said this was because the earthquake needs had been met and there had never been any intention to keep the fund going forever.
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