Helen Haines MP has been impressed by Mansfield Autism State Services’ vision to expand its support for families living with autism.

The Independent Federal Member for Indi met MASS director Simone Reeves and strategic projects adviser Judy Dixon at the not-for-profit organisation’s recently-purchased 41-hectare farm on May 27 to discuss its development masterplan for the site.

MASS is looking to raise $24 million to build a new day and term school, a range of residential and camp services, an equine therapy centre and recreation facilities at the site.

“I was very impressed by the organisation’s vision and business planning,” Dr Haines said.

“It has done such vital work with autism families for decades, and I’ll be supporting it to put a case to the federal government for funding now MASS has bought the land for its expansion and completed feasibility scoping.”

Dr Haines said the meeting with Ms Reeves and Ms Dixon was one among many across the day where the Mansfield community’s optimism was clearly evident.

Earlier she met with Mansfield mayor Marg Attley OAM and Shire Council chief executive officer Kaylene Conrick, Mansfield District Chamber of Commerce president John Lazarov and Mansfield Hotel’s Lisa Brown.

She also visited Mansfield Hunting and Fishing’s Shane and Mel Kirley, met Henry Partners’ accountant Mark Evans, and later talked with Hidden Trails by Horseback’s Laura and Christian Hayes.

“There’s no doubt that these past five months have been very challenging for Mansfield business and tourism, affected first by the summer bushfire emergency and then by COVID-19 restrictions,” Dr Haines said.

“But there’s a really strong spirit in this community. That spirit was evident in my conversations and meetings throughout the day. That’s clear from the work MASS is doing, the way in which Mansfield Hotel has kept on staff through JobKeeper and carried out renovations during the restrictions, and how Hidden Trails lost all its visitor business but has supported a temporary visa holder who could not get home to Europe because of the travel lockdown.

“Mark Evans also spoke with me about the work his accounting firm and others had been doing.

“People would rarely describe accountants as heroes.

“But across Indi they’re the unsung profession that’s done so much to help business clients and people needing advice about money through the bushfire emergency and COVID-19.

“They’ve been a source of reliable information and brilliant at helping people navigate a complex system during very difficult times.

“And that work is far from over. Small business owners and managers in Mansfield Shire have continued to raise with me the failure of government to recognise that the knock-on effects in this community of summer’s bushfires have been very real.

“Small business in Mansfield deserves to be eligible for the $10,000 bushfire grants like businesses in the Alpine and Towong shires.

“I discussed with John Lazarov and Margaret Attley my work with the National Bushfire Recovery Agency to get the federal and Victorian governments to agree so Mansfield businesses can become eligible for these grants.”

Dr Haines said more than 60 per cent of Mansfield businesses responding to her April 2020 survey about the effects of COVID had reported severe impacts, compared with 85pc of businesses in Alpine and 67pc in Towong shires, where there were major bushfires.

[May 29, 2020]

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