Leadership woes put future of Baldivis Children’s Forest in doubt

Stuart HortonSound Telegraph
Baldivis MLA Reece Whitby with outgoing Baldivis Children’s Forest Chair Sarah Blake and Archie Blake.
Camera IconBaldivis MLA Reece Whitby with outgoing Baldivis Children’s Forest Chair Sarah Blake and Archie Blake. Credit: Supplied

The future of Baldivis Children’s Forest is in jeopardy following the en masse resignation of its new executive last week after a review into the group’s operations found a number of “critical operational failures”.

A new leadership team, headed by chairwoman Sarah Blake, was appointed in June with a mandate to address governance concerns surrounding the group, but following a governance and financial audit that unearthed serious failures dating back several years, the committee resisted change. The audits discovered past committees had no strategic plan, no budget and had operated at a loss for two years, as well as pinpointing concerns threatening the group’s charitable status and issues with multiple bank accounts and who had access to them.

The forest, a centre for environmental education, is now in danger of losing its charitable status after twice being non-compliant with ASIC guidelines. The executive team requested major changes be implemented to fix the problems but the committee rejected that.

Ms Blake said it was “disappointing” the executive could not garner enough trust and she, along with the vice-chair and treasurer, resigned.

“Over the past four months the executive has work tirelessly to understand where the organisation is at and to create a plan for moving forward,” Ms Blake said.

“It is clear that previous executives have failed in their responsibilities to execute governance and employer responsibilities.

“We have faced cultural and procedural issues. These barriers highlighted to me that I have progressed change as far as I can.”

A proposed environmental education centre at the forest is now also in doubt after Baldivis MLA Reece Whitby called for a stop to State Government funding “in order to protect the interests of taxpayers” after the resignations.

“I am incredibly disappointed because the Baldivis Children’s Forest is still valued and supported by our community,” he said.

The committee has not voted on new office bearers.

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