THE battle to retain Moora Residential College, the Education Department-run boarding facility adjacent to the local Central Midlands Senior High School in the Wheatbelt town of Moora is gaining momentum.
Rather than diminish over time, the resolve of those fighting the closure and manning the #savemooracollege hashtag has firmed and continues to garner support.
And it’s no wonder, because this fight is about fairness.
A concept Western Australians understand and cherish.
We know it is important to provide access to education for all WA school children, and that parents in remote regions who are forced to send their children away, are already at a disadvantage.
Moora College, one of eight regional residential colleges, currently houses 26 students from as far afield as 80 Mile Beach, Marble Bar and Coorow.
There were 29 students enrolled at the beginning of this school year, but three withdrew due to uncertainty after Education Minister Sue Ellery announced that the facility would close at the end of 2018.
In a bitter irony, the college was due for a full revamp that was to have begun in March 2018.
In August 2016, then Education Minister Peter Collier and Regional Development Minister Terry Redman presented beaming parents and children with a cheque for $8.7 million for a full renovation of the college.
How that figure was arrived at is somewhat opaque, but the president of the Central Midlands Senior High School P&C Tracey Errington said.
“The initial funding for refurbishment of all colleges was allocated under Royalties for Regions. As each one was completed the remaining funds were rolled over and allocated to the next in line. Moora was the last on the list, and we were allocated the balance left after Northam and Merredin were completed.
“That is how the figure of $8.7m was arrived at.
“The architect employed by the current government in May 2017 was given a budget of $8.7m.
“That report was then costed to match the budget, but it was not what was required to upgrade.
“We estimate around $500,000 will do the job, given that an assessment in 2012 put it at $160,000.
“But there was no consultation.”
The problem for Moora is, the politics are messy.
After the decision to reverse the School of the Air closures, Minister Ellery will not want to be seen to back down on Moora.
And you have to ask why Moora was left until last.
Some are philosophical and say that someone had to be last.
Others feel that because Moora is a safe conservative seat, it was not the beneficiary of the pork barrelling seen in marginal or swinging seats.
Nevertheless, had the minister engaged in community consultation in the weeks after the December 13, 2017, announcement, driven the two hours to Moora and looked at the building, spoken the community, and the students who told me how much they love their “home away from home”, she and the government may have saved themselves a world of pain.
There is no doubt that community leaders are willing to make a compromise.
They just want the facility to remain open.
There are some repairs that need to be carried out, but Ms Errington said that the most recent report showed that the building was structurally sound.
While it is a bit shabby in places, it is it liveable and very clean.
Of concern was an issue of fire safety, but that has been rectified at a cost of $59,000.
The community, including the Shire, the P&C and the Chamber of Commerce want an independent assessor to cost the necessary repairs.
To date this wish has not been granted.
There is an enormous amount of goodwill in the town, and proponents of the college are certain they could fix and update the building economically for a lot less than $8.7m.
They have said they are willing to fund those repairs, in effect putting their money where their mouth is.
So where is the harm?
It’s the politics of it.
The perception that this will be seen as yet another backflip, used to punish the government.
There is a fear in Moora that without the 26 students attending CMSHS, funding will be diminished, depleting the school’s resources and sending it on the inevitable path of a downgrade to a District High School.
Ms Errington said CMSHS will lose up to $350,000 at the end of 2018 if the college closes.
As MC at the first rally in Moora, I was struck by the politics of the closure.
And the fact that it seemed the mums, dads and children, the people most impacted by this decision, had been forgotten.
This is not a fight against Labor, although the notion that Labor ignores the bush because there aren’t any votes in it has gained traction.
City voters are not deaf to the plight of their fellow Western Australians just because they live in the country, as evidenced by the backlash to the proposed closure of School of the Air.
There’s no doubt the campaign is frustrating the government.
Every time Premier Mark McGowan has to talk about Moora, it sucks oxygen from his message.
Community leaders have travelled to Perth and met with Ministers Ellery and MacTiernan.
They also met with the Premier after the latest rally in Perth.
These meetings have failed to reach any resolution.
Moora Shire president Ken Seymour said any future meetings must be held in Moora.
It’s disappointing that neither the Premier nor his minister have toured the building.
Meanwhile, those involved in the #Savemooracollege campaign say they are in it for the long haul.
Using the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and manned by seemingly indefatigable volunteers, fresh campaigns are underway their message is loud and clear - “We will not go away”.
And why should they?
This decision affects their town, the quality of their children’s education and their ability to attract families to the burgeoning food bowl.
For me, it’s about kids.
The children I met on that first trip to MC the rally.
Boys like Andy Penny and River Richards, who bravely stood up and told us all how much this college means to them.
Seeing these kids brave 38 degree heat after an arduous trip to Perth in an unconditioned bus to protest at a second rally, this time on parliament, only reaffirmed how important it is that we acknowledge and support these children and their worried, tired and stressed families.
They may be small, but watch this space, because Moora just may be The Mouse That Roared.