Angst over Communities plan

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Department of Communities office in Margaret River was "closed" in 2018, officials say.
Camera IconThe Department of Communities office in Margaret River was "closed" in 2018, officials say. Credit: Warren Hately

When is an office not an office? That’s the line WA’s Department of Communities is using to dodge hard questions about whether it will commit to maintaining a future presence in Margaret River.

Flagged by the Times earlier this year, the one-person service — which operates out of 141 Bussell Highway — provides advice and guidance to residents seeking help from various government agencies, but now faces possible closure, with the staffer on maternity leave.

The Department of Communities this week reiterated comments the service in Margaret River was a trial program that would be “reviewed”.

The Department said its Margaret River office “has not been open to the general public since 2018”.

“The trial will provide Communities with information and early evidence about how well the approach works as a holistic early intervention and capacity-building model for vulnerable people whose needs are not met by existing programs,” the department said.

The move has stirred up residents, including mental health group Mindful Margaret River, which says any loss of service would badly affect the town, and has questioned how the review could assess the service with no one working here.

“It’s a no-brainer,” chairman Stuart Hicks told the Times.

“The position has been hugely beneficial to Margaret River. It has no doubt saved lives, as well as providing huge help to some 70 needy people in the community.

“This is really bad news.”

The trial review, which includes six other regional towns the department also declined to identify, should be finished by the end of January, with outcomes released mid-2021. But the department also confirmed the office would sit vacant during the next six months.

“Given the time and cost to establish a new team in Margaret River and the time remaining of the prototype (until June 30, 2021), it was not considered viable to fill the position before a broader decision on the future of local communities co-ordinator was reached,” a spokesman said.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Ian Earl said the Shire would lobby to maintain the local service.

“The local community co-ordinator position provides invaluable services to the local community and is a key link for all of the relevant service providers within the shire and region,” Cr Earl said.

Mr Hicks, a former South West Development Commission chairman, said he was astonished the department could not find a single officer among 6000 personnel to service Margaret River.

With country residents facing harder challenges accessing mental health services, and a potential Parliamentary inquiry into the 2018 Osmington murder-suicide affecting the region, Mr Hicks said the service decision could not be left to languish until after the March State election.

And the traditional Christmas/New Year seasonal pressures on families … can put an added burden on the shoulders of people who are doing it tough,” he said.

“For Mindful Margaret River, this is a slap in the face for our hard-working unpaid volunteers. Most of all, it’s terrible news for our shire.”

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