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Editorial : Reading between the lines of how the Bay lost their Spirit of Place

This week saw the once loved Batemans Bay Community Centre stripped away from the community and given instead to a Quango agency who consider the building as a convenient annex to expand their office space. At a time when enormous effort is being directed towards mental health and building community spirits and resilience the heart of the Batemans Bay community is being ripped away from them to meet the $19 million gap that council must meet in its new Mackay Park pool. The community had been assured that their centre was safe until such time as the doors of the new Mackay Park facility opened and the community could inspect the promised replacement meeting rooms to determine if they were in fact "like-for-like" as promised. Council staff have decided to renege on this promise and instead are fast tracking the sale of the community owned building by way of removing the community from the premises and leasing it out to a third party. SEARMS Aboriginal Housing Corporation have been advised that they were the successful tenderer for the building after Council staff called for expressions of interest saying they had "received several unsolicited approaches to lease the centre during the year." In granting the lease the majority of 15 community groups, which includes more than six hundred members of the University of the Third Age, have been told to relocate to other venues. Council have offered the incentive of rent-free for six months to venues that are neither satisfactory, convenient to public transport, level for disabled, nor fit-for-purpose such as having the required storage and the specifically designed sprung dance floor of the current hall in place for older members of the community to enjoy without associated impacts. The community centre – hall, training room, meeting room, and consultation room has long been hired, on a regular basis, by a wide cross section of community groups and as such the Centre has covered its own costs without any Council subsidy, as one might find at a pool, sporting field or any of the many other halls and Council owned venues across the shire. Nevertheless, this Council (Innes, Thomson, Tait, Nathan, Brown and Pollock) have identified that they wish to lease and then sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre in order to direct funds to the operational costs of running the new Mackay Park Centre. In an about turn on a clear promise to the community that Council would do nothing in regards to the Community Centre until such time as the front doors of Mackay Park open they have now blatantly ignored the protests of the community, ignored a 1000 signature petition and voted 6-3 to evict the community from their own centre and install an agency at a discounted rate. Presenting to Eurobodalla Councillors at the Public Forum session prior to the final vote of Council the SEARMS Aboriginal Housing Corporation CEO Kim Sinclair said "Our Expression of Interest will seek to work with current users groups where possible". Council Mayne asked the CEO if she had had a chance to meet with the 15 groups of users. Her response was "The only one we have had direct with and included in our EOI was meals on Wheels but we've also approached and included in our EOI other community organisations that currently provide services up and down the Far South Coast to share the space with us." The CEO revealed that SEARMS Aboriginal Housing Corporation provided assistance to the Batemans Bay, Mogo, Bodalla, Narooma and Wallaga Lake communities and that their intention was to occupy the Batemans Bay Community Centre and sublease to other like groups to provide a "wheel and spoke" approach of a one-stop shop. The CEO said "We have limited resources and do not have the ability to lease at commercial rates". During the discussions prior to voting the General Manager said that she understood that the Councillors intentions were to "have some sort of a near-commercial rent "however if it is slightly below that then that is where we would be going because SEARMS is a community group". During the ensuing debate of whether to lease a community centre to a third party and evict the community from their own building Councillor Anthony Mayne argued that Council wanted to take Commercial over Community and split the community. He clearly advised that he was foreshadowing rescission motion. That rescission motion was lodged today at 12 noon and will go to a special meeting next Thursday 17th December at 2pm. It is understood that under currants of dissent from a number of councillors sought to block the rescission motion. With the councillors having voted six against three on Tuesday 8th Dec to lease the building it will take two of the six to cross the floor and support the rescission motion. With Innes and her co-Community Alliance subordinates in check the Mayor will also have the support of fellow "lock the gate" councillor James Thomson. Councillor Rob Pollock has clearly indicated in the past that he accepts that the community is not being given the "like-for-like" community facilities they were promised however he appears swayed in believing that the waiving of hire fees for the next six months on other council venues that has been offered might see the community transition happily away from their centre and make them more open and accepting of the leasing and future sale. The snake in the bag will be Councillor Lindsay Brown who managed last week to openly represent his Narooma community on a local matter yet showed little if any interest in the Batemans Bay issue as if it was on the Moon. Clr Brown has already begun his campaigning for Mayor in the 2021 Local Government elections in September and has much to repair in the scarring he took from the Batemans Bay community over his failures in managing and responding to the Batemans Bay bat issue. The Batemans Bay Community Centre might just be the key issue he sees to win votes away from Innes in the north. It depends, in the end, on where he has already agreed to preferences in his bid to be Mayor 2021. The BBay community wishes appear, in this instance, to be secondary to his aspirations While the rescission motion lodge today had not been formally lodged at Tuesday's meeting the intention was clear. Regardless of this the General Manager, under the delegated authority of the adopted motion this has now advised SEARMS that they were the successful applicant. The proviso of the lease arrangement is that Meals on Wheels, who use the community centre’s kitchen and, having no suitable alternative currently available, are able to continue to access as part of any lease agreement. It will be interesting to see how the vote goes next Thursday.


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