The Gunnedah and District Chamber of Commerce has fired back at suggestions that fundraising efforts at the 2023 Business House Gala Ball were below par.

It follows a notice of motion raised at Gunnedah Shire Council’s ordinary meeting for the chamber to submit a report of revenue from the fundraising event held in July.

“Our books are quite open,” chamber president Ben Hennessy said.

“I’m more than happy to set the record straight.”

The black tie evening hosted by the business chamber was held in support of Kolomotu’a Middle School in Tonga whose library was devastated by a tsunami last year.

Kolomotu’a is the official sister city of Gunnedah Shire Council.

The formal dinner and fundraising night hosted Tongan dignitaries including Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, the High Commissioner of the Kingdom of Tonga to the Commonwealth of Australia.

A fundraising auction raised about $15,000 according to the chamber – well below its initial forecast of more than double that amount.

Gunnedah Shire Council contributed about $11,000 plus in-kind support toward the event.

A notice of motion raised by councillor Colleen Fuller at council’s October meeting requested the chamber provide a report outlining the “summary of costs and revenues for the ball and how much money was raised for the new library”.

Cr Fuller said the request was in line with council’s funding support for other events and to justify the investment to the community.

“We need to be accountable,” Cr Fuller told fellow councillors.

Councillor Robert Hoddle also supported the motion that ultimately was passed by elected members.

He highlighted how council’s funding of $11,265 for the event would have been significantly more when its in-kind concessions such as venue hire and ticket purchases, were also considered.

Cr Hoddle suggested council would have been better to hand over the funds direct to the library given the charity auction’s low revenue.

“We might as well just given them the money and not had the ball because the outcome was really disappointing,” he said.

“For the sake of the community we need a justification.”

Chamber of commerce president Ben Hennessy conceded the auction response was “lacklustre” and below expectations.

He said the auction fielded great donations by the business community, some worth $10,000 or more, but many struggled to strike a bid.

The chamber president thought the lack of interest was partly due to the make-up of the audience – many who were representatives of the Tongan royal party.

“It was a different crowd,” he said.

Mr Hennessy said while the chamber was pleased to support the charitable cause, the poor financial return for council was not the chamber’s fault as the whole fundraising event was driven by council.

“Initially the chamber was just hosting a gala ball,” he said.

“The request came from council to host the sister city event.

“We wouldn’t have asked council to assist if it was purely for the chamber.”

He said much of the expense was invested in event styling in fitting with the royal occasion.

In addition to council’s investment and significantly more from corporate sponsors, the chamber was also in the red from the event.

“The chamber suffered a $3500 loss, plus contributions we made in countless hours of unpaid work,” he said.

Despite the challenging first gala ball for chamber, the organisation planned to host more events in the future with charity groups.

Gunnedah Shire Council requested that the chamber of commerce provide the summary report of the gala ball in time for the December council meeting.

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