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Shire of Augusta-Margaret River backs rangers and laments resident anger after ball fines incident

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Margaret River Youth Precinct is a regular gathering point for travellers with nowhere else to go.
Camera IconThe Margaret River Youth Precinct is a regular gathering point for travellers with nowhere else to go. Credit: Warren Hately/Augusta-Margaret River Times

Although fines handed out to a group of teenagers were quickly overturned at the weekend, the Shire has doubled down on the legality of the penalties because camping was not authorised despite parents hiring Gracetown Hall.

Shire president Julia Meldrum issued a statement on Saturday once the scale of the public relations disaster became apparent, with the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River releasing more information on Monday in response to Times inquiries.

Ms Meldrum initially said rangers were “acting in accordance with Shire policies to issue infringements” while also noting the teenagers had a right to be there.

“It has come to the Shire’s attention that this was an organised event on a Shire reserve,” she said.

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“Based on this, the Shire will be retracting the infringements.

“The Shire does not want to unnecessarily get in the way of our community enjoying what our region has to offer.

“To help us serve the community better, we encourage people organising an event to contact us so we can ensure good outcomes for people, the community and our environment.”

The Times instead asked why rangers were unaware Gracetown Hall was hired for the after-ball party and elected to wake up, photograph, identify and fine multiple teenagers despite many being under 18 and obviously residents.

A Shire spokesperson said there was a miscommunication that left rangers unaware of the booking and photographic evidence was standard practice.

Shire sustainable economy and communities director Nick Byrne on Monday stressed the campsite was next to Gracetown Hall and the parents involved had a “genuine misunderstanding” about camping permissions.

Mr Byrne acknowledged rangers’ arrival was not an “ideal end for the party”, but he was “keen to remind the community that the rangers were doing their job in line with the information they had available”.

“Our rangers are dedicated community members who work incredibly hard to uphold our standards, often in challenging situations,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that some people used this as an opportunity to abuse our staff rather than trying to understand the difficult nature of the task at hand.”

The director, who started work at the Shire in November, said the local government was “working closely with community groups to tighten up booking systems and procedures for community halls to reduce the possibility of such situations arising in the future”.

Ms Meldrum declined to comment on what further action the shire would take in the wake of the incident or whether there would be any reviews undertaken.

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