President’s column – 8 May 2020

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Local Government Minister Mark Coulton’s presence at today’s video-linked ALGA board forum emphasised what is shaping as a watershed moment for Australia.

Amid moves to restart the economy – a process in which local government’s role will be pivotal – the Deputy Prime Minister emphasised the importance of improving Australia’s road network and indicated positive support for the many suggestions provided by over 400 councils to date in response to his recent letter to Mayors and CEOs.

It is a welcome recognition of the crucial role infrastructure will play in rebuilding our urban and regional economies, and the key role Local Government can play.

If there is to be further investment in our road network, expect an announcement in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, local governments are setting out to ease the pandemic restrictions and other lockdown measures which have worked extraordinarily well to contain Covid-19’s spread, albeit at a cost to the economies and finances of Local Government Areas.

Councils across the nation have been listening to their local communities and responding as best they can within their limited financial means. Fee and rate freezes are common, waivers on late fees and interest on overdue rates for extended periods also.

Many councils have adopted or are considering a specific business assistance package. A few have even been able to resource waiving a whole quarter of rates for badly affected businesses, and meal vouchers for vulnerable locals to use at local cafes and restaurants – providing food on the table for those in need and money in the pockets of some of our worst-affected local businesses.

Many libraries have continued to function, delivering books to homes, or providing a contact-free pick-up service. Staff have assisted with delivering Meals on Wheels to replace elderly volunteers who have been advised to stay home.

Telephone contact services have been commissioned in most councils to keep in contact with home-bound locals, and volunteers of all types have put their hands up to help with shopping, meal delivery or other small tasks that ease the burdens for those stuck at home.

The Prime Minister’s announcements today of a three -step recovery strategy is welcome news to all locals and the businesses that serve them. Some states have already made clear statements about when the process will begin, with some leaders outlining the first step in easing restrictions on Monday.

This is terrific news for councils, with libraries and community facilities among the first being able to reopen, enabling our full service streams to start being offered to locals via these important community hubs.

The feeling of confidence that will flow from the easing of restrictions will be palpable.

I encourage councils to not just participate in economic stimulus activities, but to actively celebrate the lifting of restrictions at the appropriate time.

Expected to be completed by July, this gives councils ample time to develop ideas for events and visual signs of success, to mark this historic occasion and celebrate the discipline our communities have shown over previous weeks to not just flatten the curve, but almost eliminate it.

Lifting restrictions and working with other levels of government to develop economic stimulus strategies will have many flow-on effects.

Nev Power, who heads the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, has said that  getting office workers back to work will be a priority because that would have huge spin-offs for the cafes, restaurants, dry cleaners and other services which rely on them.

He has also backed company tax cuts or investment allowance schemes to attract investment in the recovery stage.

Whichever recovery course the Commission set us on, Local Government will be doing its utmost to contribute to the economic “rebuild” – whilst ensuring local communities benefit first and foremost.

Is your council ready?

David O’Loughlin,
ALGA President