THE Hamilton community fears hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to support its vulnerable children could be lost with the wind up of a Warrnambool-based social welfare agency.
Several long-time volunteers with Community Connections Victoria (CCV) say they are being kept in the dark over the future of public funds originally raised for the former Currawong House children’s care facility.
CCV chairman Terry O’Keefe confirmed to The Standard yesterday the money had been spent on “keeping the agency functioning and running because of the complexities of the last few months”.
He said it was originally set aside with the intention of reinvesting it in the Hamilton area, but had since been redirected to pay expenses such as redundancies and entitlements after government services were withdrawn late last year.
Mr O’Keefe said it was unclear whether the money would be returned to the agency’s reserves: “We’d very much like to ensure the money is reinvested in Hamilton.”
He said the board “was hell-bent on protecting its significant asset in Hamilton”, an office building originally purchased for $200,000 but now valued at $500,000.
Community Connections is planning to cease functioning as part of a merger deal with Melbourne’s OzChild, with a due diligence process now under way. CCV chief executive officer Bruce du Vergier is pushing for his agency’s assets, liabilities and activities to be transferred to a “like-minded charitable organisation”.
He moved a motion to that effect at a company meeting last month which was carried unanimously. In a subsequent motion, OzChild was named as the “like-minded” organisation. It has now been revealed the meeting was not held in accordance with company guidelines requiring that all members be given 14 days’ notice of meetings.
Branxholme’s Sue Baulch, an inaugural CCV company member, did not receive formal notice of the meeting, which Mr O’Keefe described as “a bit of an oversight”.
“Every other member was at that meeting,” Mr O’Keefe said.
Mrs Baulch told The Standard she was was shocked to receive a letter from Mr du Vergier in which he said it was “unfortunate” she was not able to attend.
“The view expressed at the meeting was that you were supportive of the agency winding up and the transfer to a like-minded charitable organisation,” Mr du Vergier wrote.
He suggested Mrs Baulch “may consider completing” an enclosed form of support stating: “despite my absence from the company meeting, I wish to support the two motions carried on the day”.
“However, you may wish to have your vote recorded in favour of the two motions in retrospect,” Mr du Vergier’s letter added.
A disappointed Mrs Baulch said she had never indicated she was in favour of any proposed motions and had only been told about the meeting the night before by Midge Gough, the president of CCV’s Hamilton support group.
After Mrs Baulch’s solicitor Tony Brown wrote to Mr du Vergier on her behalf, Mr du Vergier advised her that another CCV company meeting was scheduled for this coming Thursday where the two motions would be put forward again.
Mrs Baulch was a member of the Hamilton Children’s Protection Society which ran a public fund-raising campaign to set up Currawong House in the mid-1970s.
The facility provided short-term residential care for up to eight children in circumstances such as family breakdowns, disasters and for respite care.
“We had massive, massive support with hundreds and hundreds of donors from throughout the district,” Mrs Baulch said. Currawong House eventually came under the management of Community Connections before it was forced to close in the early 1990s due to changes in government policy.
The property was sold, returning $350,000 after commission and expenses.
Mrs Baulch said the local committee was given a commitment that the capital would be preserved for use in the Hamilton community.
Despite her repeated calls to Mr du Vergier and board members, she has been unable to get any answers about how much money is left.
She is hoping any remaining funding can be directed to a new children’s access centre for Hamilton rather than be handed to OzChild.
“I’m planning to go to next Thursday’s meeting and speak against the motions.”
Midge Gough also believed the money was put into a separate account at CCV.
“We trusted them to look after it,”she said.
‘‘We were saving up for a combined children’s centre in Hamilton. We were happy to do that.”
Mrs Gough said she supported both motions in a telephone hook-up at last month’s CCV company meeting.
“But I now feel there were many hidden facts I wasn’t aware of at the time.
“Now I’d still support the motion to wind up but I’d also call for the appointment of an administrator so that the buildings can be sold and the outstanding redundancies and debts can be paid.
“The money to me is important, but more important is the fact that all these services that were so good, like foster care, are now no more.
“It’s so disappointing.
“They’ve lost all these good workers who were so dedicated.”