Georges River Council says committee acted outside its authority in declining Lunar New Year sponsor

Sticking point: Controversy has flared up again over the sponsorship of this year's Georges River Lunar New Year festival.
Sticking point: Controversy has flared up again over the sponsorship of this year's Georges River Lunar New Year festival.

Georges River Council has said its Major Events Advisory Committee had acted outside its authority when it declined the sponsorship of its 2019 Chinese Lunar New Year Festival by independent media group Vision China Times.

The council comment was part of a statement issued in response to the ABC Four Corners Program on Chinese interference and Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia, which aired last night.

The program interviewed Vision Times Media Group general manager Maree Ma who said the November 12, 2018 meeting of Georges River Council's Major Events Advisory Committee (MEAC) declined the media organisation's sponsorship offer for this year's Lunar New Year festival due to political pressure from the Chinese Consul-General's office.

Vision China Times had offered $11,613 to be a sponsor of the council's 2019 Lunar New Year festival and Australia Day event.

Vision China Times was subsequently allowed to be a sponsor of the 2019 events after the full council agreed to accept the sponsorship offer.

Following last night's Four Corners program, the council issued its statement saying the Major Events Advisory Committee had acted outside its authority when it cancelled the Vision China Times sponsorship.

"When the whole Council became aware of this it immediately took action to reinstate the sponsorship by Vision China Times for the 2019 Lunar Year event," the council statement said.

"Council's position is that sponsorship for events must occur within the framework of our adopted sponsorship policy and free of any external influence."

Vision China Times said their sponsorship offer of $8,183 for the council's 2018 Lunar New Year and Australia Day celebrations was accepted in December 2017 and then withdrawn a month later.

Council paid $2,629 to reimburse Vision China Times for losses in the cancellation of the sponsorship agreement.

Publishers of the newspaper claim that the sponsorship was cancelled after contact by the Consul-General's office because they were deemed a political organisation, which they deny.

Vision China Times sponsorship had been accepted by Sydney councils over the years without any issues including Willoughby, Ashfield, Burwood, Ryde and Kuring-gai.

"We have never had any problems with other councils except this one," the Vision China Times spokesperson said.

Earlier this year, a Georges River Council spokesperson confirmed that it had approved an application in December, 2017, from Vision China Times to be a media sponsor for the 2018 Lunar New Year Festival and Australia Day Festival.

"After initially being accepted, the sponsorship was later cancelled in mid-January, 2018, following a meeting of the council's Major Events Advisory Committee, as it was decided that council had a major media partner who adequately covered the media sponsorship needs of the festivals," the council spokesperson said.

"Vision China Times has been rejected by the current Georges River Council on this one occasion only.

"Contact did occur between members of the council's Major Events Advisory Committee, council staff and the Chinese Consul-General's office.

"Discussions with the Consul-General's office is standard practice in the lead-up to each Lunar New Year festival, given the Consul-General's involvement in the formal elements of the day."

The Four Corners program said the council received an email from the office of the Chinese Consul-General in January this year and two follow-up emails mentioning that an "anti-Chinese political group" was an event sponsor.

In February, the full council allowed Vision China Times to be a sponsor of the 2019 Chinese Lunar New Year Festival and Australia Day Festival.

The Chinese Consul-General did not attend this year's Lunar New Year event.

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