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White knight seeks wind back of Policy 161

Welcome to the jungle: Interim Campaspe Shire chief executive officer Tim Tamlin has arrived at the local government authority amid a storm regarding the disposal of assets, which house the shire’s senior citizens, and other community groups.

A “white knight’’ with an intricate working knowledge of government policy development will meet with Campaspe Shire’s new chief executive officer on Tuesday to fight for the rights of the council’s senior citizens population.

The goal is to wind back Campaspe’s Policy 161, which directly relates to lease agreements between the council agreements and community groups.

An agenda for the meeting between the senior citizens representative and the CEO has been finalised, where the “white knight’’ will plead the case of the senior citizens — most in their 80s and 90s — to keep their meeting places.

Several of the shire’s senior citizens’ buildings have been identified for future disposal under the Asset Management Plan.

Campaspe Shire’s recent adoption of its Asset Management Plan sent shockwaves through the region as several organisations that have “informal agreements’’ in place for their meeting places discovered those same buildings had been identified for disposal in the 10-year program.

The concern of the “white knight’’, who will initially go into bat for Campaspe’s senior citizens (but more widely on behalf of all groups in a similar situation), is that the offloading of council buildings and abandoning of informal agreements with community groups that occupy those buildings is unfair.

His research has uncovered the fact the decision by council to, in essence, force the senior citizens into complicated lease contracts flies in the face of state and federal government legislation.

He will ask the shire to suspend any contractual talks in relation to a change of circumstance for any of Campaspe’s senior groups.

Echuca Senior Citizens reached out to him several months ago, having been informed by the shire that there would be a change to the agreement that was currently in place for their Landsborough St building.

The senior citizens have been presented with a commercial lease by a lawyer, which immediately led to them seeking some outside counsel on the matter.

The white knight considers the approach by council as totally inappropriate, advised by council they will be treated in the same fashion as any commercial operator entering a leasing arrangement with council.

A reference point for the senior citizens, according to their unofficial representatives, offers the clarity and transparency required to dismiss the need for such a document to be applied in this situation.

According to information collected by the determined senior citizens spokesperson the Echuca building was purpose-built in August 1974, through joint funding support from the federal Whitlam government and the Hamer state government.

He is suggesting is that the enduring sole purpose of the building was as the Senior Citizens Centre on non-Crown Land should remain.

The new local government act of 2020 requires a formal agreement to be put in place for anyone who operates out of a council-owned building or on Crown land property.

A document relating to the Social Security Service for the Aged (home care and senior citizens, paramedical services, and the like) was shipped off by local councils and the state government of the day to the federal government and funding for things like the senior citizens centre was lost.

It meant since mid-June 2015 council was responsible for paying the running costs of a building like the senior citizens. That now appears to be the major reason for the shift in idealism as the suggestion is for the seniors to share the building or pick up the extra costs of running the building.

State Nationals Leader, and Member for Murray Peter Walsh, has been included in the conversation in recent weeks.

He has been contacted to assist in the argument that Campaspe council cannot extinguish the purpose of this building, as legislated almost 50 years ago, through this asset management plan.

Also included in the discussion, albeit from afar, is the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning — the governing authority for Crown Land facilities.

Campaspe Shire manager community health Janelle Wheatley has been included in unofficial discussions with the “white knight’’ and there is an acknowledgement of council that an informal agreement is in place with the seniors — for its lease of the building.

Echuca Neighbourhood House has recently been brought into the discussion (in relation to the Echuca seniors), to become a joint tenant of the Senior Citizens building as a win-win to subsidise the cost of its operation.

That is probably the best outcome for the senior citizens, a supportive group behind them being able to continue business as usual from the centre.

There are several groups, according to the council, interested in taking over the building.

An initial deadline of June 13 for a decision on the future direction of the Echuca lease was suspended because of the involvement of the Senior Citizens mouthpiece, who will continue to make the argument that this approach flies in the face of historic legislation from the 1970s.