Councils and COVID-19
Victoria’s 79 councils are playing an important role in working with their communities and the State Government in responding to COVID-19.
Dedicated council staff are continuing to provide services focussed on community health and safety, including maternal and child health, childhood immunisations, meals on wheels, waste and recycling, and public health inspections.
In times of crisis, community demand and expectations on councils increase rather than decrease.
Local government also plays a critical role in emergency relief and recovery, working in close partnership with the State.
It is simply false to say that councils and council CEOs do less in times of emergency.
Council CEO remuneration is determined by each council, is market-tested and reflects the difficulty of the role CEOs perform.
Councils are complex organisations that deliver more than 100 services, ranging from maternal and child health, to waste and recycling, aged care, public health and food safety inspections, and planning and building services.
Community infrastructure managed by councils is valued at more than $100 billion and includes libraries, recreation facilities, parks and gardens, drains, bridges and 85 per cent of the road network.
Increased demand for support services, loss of revenue, and exclusion of local government from State and Federal Government support programs, is making the role of CEOs more complex, not less.
Council job losses
Local government employs more than 50,000 Victorians, including around 8000 casuals. As a result of mandatory facility closures, around 5000 casuals are now without work, and around 700 full-time and part-time staff have been stood down.
It is frustrating that council staff are excluded from assistance through the Commonwealth’s JobKeeper program. It makes no sense that frontline workers such as childcare workers employed by a private or not-for-profit organisation can access JobKeeper payments whereas those performing identical roles for councils cannot.
The NSW Government has announced a $395 million economic stimulus package for council jobs and local services and infrastructure. The package includes $112.5 million for a Council Job Retention Allowance of $1500 per fortnight per employee to limit job losses in the NSW local government sector. We have been advocating for the same type of support package for councils in Victoria and will continue to do so.
As is the case for many businesses, council activities and income streams have been directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
A range of council-run facilities, including libraries, sport and recreation centres, galleries and performing arts centres, have been closed to comply with the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
Councils are actively supporting their communities and local businesses through the provision of various support and stimulus packages.
Nationally, local government rates account for less than 4 per cent of tax collected in Australia. Furthermore, rate capping limits Victorian councils’ ability to raise funds to cover increased costs or loss of incomes.
Rates revenue funds critical services and infrastructure that the community relies upon. The reality is that if rates do not keep up with costs, difficult cost reduction measures will be needed including service cuts.
Councils recognise that coronavirus is leading to job losses and economic downturn that will put a lot of families, households and businesses under significant financial pressure. It’s exactly for circumstances like these that councils have hardship policies in place to provide relief to individuals and businesses in financial difficulty.
Councils remain focused on supporting their communities and on doing what they can to facilitate recovery and resilience. As councils prepare their budgets for next year, an overwhelming number are including generous COVID-19 packages to support their communities and businesses to get back on their feet.