THE Casterton community has reacted angrily to suggestions the CFA District Headquarters be moved to either Portland or Heywood.
The proposed move, as detailed in last week’s Casterton News, was first mooted by operations manager Peter Novotny in a recommendation to acting regional manager Bob Barry on August 26, this year.
However, the proposal has outraged many business people, teachers, doctors and shop owners, as well as Glenelg Shire’s Cr Karen Stephens.
In a scathing attack on Mr Novotny, Cr Stephens said she was shocked at some of the statements Mr Novotny made in his recommendations.
“In reality the thing that I found disturbing was for a public servant to make such a damning comment in the last paragraph,” Cr Stephens said.
The last paragraph in the story read:
“Future recruitment of CFA personnel is not easy into Glenelg LGA, and Portland-Heywood offers the best opportunity to attract future quality employees. Recruitment into Casterton has and will continue to be extremely problematic given the limited community, cultural, employment, shopping, educational and other opportunities and facilities in this small town,” Mr Novotny wrote”.
“Coming from someone who is supposed to be community-orientated, this actually tells the whole community it is not worthy. Not just the CFA volunteers here who go out to fight the fires, but it could be hospital CEO Owen Stephens and all the nursing staff that provide health care; it could be primary school principal Rosemary Lewis and all her teaching staff; or Sacred Heart principal Darren Stanbury.
“It says all this community and this is a person who chooses to live in Bolwarra, just outside of Portland, and yet his contract says his location of work is Casterton and this is where he is supposed to be. He chooses not to live here.
“Now, this is his third attempt to relocate this regional office, third attempt, and I just think it is very sad and it is very damning for a public servant to actually put that in writing about a community,” Cr Stephens said.
“It is a means to an end for him as an individual, because that is what it is all about. As far as some of the information contained within his recommendation to the south-west board. Like the headquarters should go to Heywood or Portland because of certain aspects.
“Now, as far as my knowledge goes, and I have confirmed it this week, south of Hotspur is DSE-controlled land. To the north of Hotspur is CFA-controlled land.
“So, why would you take your headquarters to Heywood or Portland? It is because he lives in Bolwarra. He will not live there forever and a day, he is on a contract and whatever the contractual arrangements are for him, he will not be there long-term,” Cr Stephens said.
With the advent of 21st century technology, people can communicate from all over the Glenelg Shire and therefore the HQ does not have to be centralised in Portland or Heywood.
”The CFA owns two quality brick houses here and both are very modern with master bedrooms with ensuites and are good quality and solid brick family homes. They (CFA) did that quite specifically so they can give modern accommodation to the operation manager here in Casterton and any ancillary staff such as Steve Cooper.
“So they come here and have a modern clean home with a good garden and nice entertaining areas to walk into. Because he chooses not to live here is not the community’s fault.”
Cr Stephens said quoting the change in boundaries was nonsense to. She said because Merino has gone into the Southern Grampians Shire and Dergholm is part of the West Wimmera Shire did not mean the Casterton brigade would not go there and help out if needed.
Cr Stephens said it was an insult to the people of Casterton to suggest that ‘recruitment into Casterton has and will continue to be extremely problematic given the limited community, cultural, employment, shopping, educational and other opportunities and facilities in this small town.’
“That is most insulting to the people of Casterton,” she said.
Local GP Brian Coulson agreed with Cr Stephens and said Mr Novotny was quite out of order to suggest the people of Casterton had limited cultural, employment, shopping, educational and other facilities and opportunities.
“I have been to plenty of other places in Victoria where people would struggle to have the same facilities and opportunities as Casterton,” he said.
“There are many professional people attracted to the town because of its beauty and serenity and opportunities. What Mr Novotny said was a disgrace.”
Casterton Primary School principal Rosemary Lewis agreed with Dr Coulson.
“We provide a great education system in Casterton at all three schools and what Mr Novotny said was absolutely incorrect and derogatory towards everyone who lives and works in Casterton,” she said.
.”To my knowledge he has never visited the Casterton Primary School during the past six years, so he has no idea of what sort of education we have to offer. I just wish people who make these comments would visit and inspect the town’s facilities before they run them down.”
Cr Stephens said she had been in touch Member for Lowan, Minister for Sport and Recreation and Minister for Veterans Affairs Hugh Delahunty about the matter and was waiting for a reply. She also unsuccessfully tried to contact CFA chief fire officer Euan Ferguson.
Cr Stephens said the community was behind her on this matter and she would be calling a community forum to discuss the issue and to decide what action to take next.
“This community deserves better than comments like Mr Novotny made and I will be doing everything I can to ensure the district HQ remains in Casterton.”