A big no to rehab

By Gus McCubbing

Local residents packed the Mitchell Shire Council chambers on Monday night to voice their concerns about a planning permit application lodged to transform the Trawool Valley Resort into a respite and recovery centre.

The application, made by not-for-profit organisation Eastern Access Community Health (EACH), proposes to use the historic venue for a voluntary residential rehabilitation program for men and women with drug and alcohol problems.

But they must have already completed a minimum of seven to 10 days detox.

The centre would accommodate a maximum of 40 clients, starting with 20 for the first two years, with maximum treatment periods of 14 weeks, variable depending on personal circumstances.

It is proposed to be staffed 24 hours a day, with support workers residing overnight.

There were 53 submissions received about the application, with 17 people initially registered to speak at the community questions and hearings committee.

Trawool CFA captain Anthony Cook said the rehabilitation centre would bring an increased risk to the health and safety of local residents.

‘‘I’ve got two nephews who have been ice addicts for the past six to eight years and so I understand the process of rehabilitation and the journey it takes,’’ he said.

‘‘But in saying that, I believe the chosen location of the resort is totally inadequate due to its isolation and lack of public transport. Isolation becomes a major issue because the people closest to the resort are old and vulnerable.’’

Local resident Kevin Owen echoed this concern, saying he understood it would take Victoria Police or paramedics at least 15 minutes to get from Seymour — the closest branch available — to Trawool in the event of an incident.

‘‘I have a son who is a drug addict — you can rehabilitate these people, provided you never use the word ‘no’ because the minute you do that, you’ve got a very dangerous situation on your hands,’’ he said.

‘‘And that’s the situation the people of Trawool are going to be put into, should these people roam out of the confines set for them at present. There is no safety to people in Trawool — we would have to contain a situation for 15 minutes — if someone is available.’’

Adjoining property owner Rebecca Fagan said while changing the use of the resort from a tourist venue to a drug rehabilitation centre would have ‘‘untold negative effects’’ on the Great Victorian Rail Trail and local tourism, her main concern was also safety.

‘‘The elephant in the room here is that this will involve rehabilitating ice-affected correctional drug addicts who are newly detoxed and living in an unsecured facility within walking distance of our homes and sleeping children,’’ she said.

‘‘With significant increases in ice use Australia-wide and the rising price of this most dangerous drug of our time, which is associated with violence, agitation, paranoia and psychosis, is it any wonder the Trawool residents are feeling stress, anxiety and outrage at this imposing proposal?’’

However, EACH chief executive officer Peter Ruzyla said clients would come to the resort ‘‘fully dry and detoxed’’.

‘‘They’ve also been part of our risk assessment and screening, to be sure as best as possible we can select people who are suitable and appropriate for the experience and the opportunity for recovery we’re going to offer them,’’ he said.

‘‘More importantly, this is an opportunity for people whose lives have been out of control to reflect on that, and with our support they come to a view that they want to turn that cycle around. So not everyone is selected — we don’t select people who are just happy to be a part of the revolving door.’’

Mayor Rhonda Sanderson said she was grateful to the community for their submissions and high levels of interest regarding this planning application.

‘‘Councillors will carefully consider the application and all the submissions, both for and against the proposal, before it is presented at a future council meeting,’’ Cr Sanderson said.

‘‘At the end of the day, the decision will be made on the planning merits of the application, as we do with all planning applications. Depending on that decision, the applicant or submitters can appeal the decision at VCAT.’’