Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced last week councils would not be eligible for wage subsidies to support employees, handing responsibility for the support of Local Government’s workforce to the states.
"Local governments are not eligible for JobKeeper from the Commonwealth government ... if there is support necessary for local governments that will be provided by the state and territory governments, not the Commonwealth government," Mr Morrison said.
Local Government New South Wales (LGNSW) President, Councillor Linda Scott, has called on the Prime Minister to reverse his decision saying without it, council-run childcare centres across the state would close.
“That’s really bad news because local government is not only the largest provider of childcare and early education services in NSW – in some regional areas it is the only provider.
“It is absolutely critical that councils have access to the JobKeeper assistance package, not just to help them keep their childcare centres open but to keep council staff employed right across NSW.
“Councils want to keep as many staff in jobs as possible, so we can do our bit in keeping our local economies running.”
Cr Scott said local government needed access to the same job support packages the private sector had access to if councils were going to be able to do their bit.
“Local government needs access to JobKeeper payments so council-run childcare and preschool services operate on a level playing field with other providers, and rural and regional communities are not disadvantaged further.”
The South Australian Parliament last week passed urgent legislation giving the Minister the power to vary or suspend the operation of most sections of the Local Government Act, if required to respond to an issue caused by a major emergency.
Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA) requested the legislation saying these broad powers were a necessary measure as there is uncertainty about how long the public health emergency would be in place and the full extent of restrictions that may be imposed during this period.
To vary or suspend a section the Act, the Minister is required to issue a notice in the South Australian Government Gazette. A notice would, for example, be made to allow councils meetings to occur remotely rather than in person.
A notice can only be issued by the Minister following consultation with the LGASA, and a notice must not limit or restrict the powers of a council to impose rates and charges.
A suspension or variation of any section of the Act would last until the date specified in the notice or for 28 days after the end of the emergency declaration.
In Parliament on Friday, Minister Stephan Knoll foreshadowed his intention to suspend those parts of the Act which require the public to be permitted to attend council meetings, relating to council meeting quorum and sections relating to other public meetings and public consultation. He also indicated a willingness to consider extensions to a range of statutory deadlines.
LGASA said councils play a vital leadership role in their communities during times of emergency and it was important that the local government sector was able to carry out its functions in a manner that its safe for elected members, staff, volunteers and contractors.
LGASA is continuing to engage with the Minister about additional sections of the Act that may need to be suspended or varied during this time.
With the continued spread of COVID-19 across Western Australia and the whole country, the Kimberley Zone has called for the State Government to enforce a travel ban to the region.
The Kimberley Zone is made up of four local governments in North West Western Australia – the Shire of Broome, Shire of Derby West Kimberley, Shire of Halls Creek and Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley.
The organisation held two extraordinary meetings on March 20 and 21, with a consensus that more needs to be done to protect the Kimberley region.
The group welcomed the State Government ruling that inter-state arrivals must go into self isolation for 14 days and recent determinations to protect remote Aboriginal communities.
However, with the Kimberley home to many at-risk people, residents could be more susceptible to the adverse health repercussions of contracting COVID-19.
Shire of Broome president Harold Tracey said it was important that action was taken immediately.
“We are calling on the State Government to enforce a maximum level of travel restrictions across and around the Kimberley region as soon as possible.
“While the State Government’s recent decisions in relation to curtailing inter-state travel are a great start, additional measures must be taken in the North West before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 are identified.
“With the tourism season approaching, where around half-a-million visitors travel to the Kimberley each year, we must act now.
“The potential consequences of uncontrolled COVID-19 in the Kimberley would be devastating and as such the region’s four local governments are committed to working together to protect our residents.”
The New South Wales Government has postponed council elections until September 2021.
Local Government New South Wales (LGNSW) President, Linda Scott was grateful the Government had acted swiftly.
“In light of the Minister’s decision to delay local elections because of the COVID-19 crisis, I know all elected councillors will continue to work across political boundaries to pull together for the public good.
“Mayors and councillors are working hard to ensure good governance continues during the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to do so.
“When asked to serve for an additional year, I’m confident mayors and councillors will understand the need to provide stability and continuity of governance.”
Cr Scott said a small number of elected leaders may need to stand down and LGNSW would work with councils to support them during any necessary periods of transitions.
“Councils are the closest level of government to the community, and we are only too aware of the need to keep our communities safe and healthy,” Cr Scott said.
“It is democracy that makes Australia the country it is, and while we should always be cautious about any action that has the potential to weaken that democracy or diminish the right of the community to have a say in their own lives, this change by the NSW Government is welcome at this time.”
Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, Victoria, has taken a proactive approach to the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Council’s ‘Caring for our Community’ initiative addresses an immediate issue of making sure vulnerable and isolated members of the community are looked after by delivering care packages to their door.
Council will coordinate the initiative and are currently speaking with other levels of Government, Local Health & Welfare Agencies and Community Leaders about partnering and supporting the program.
Shire staff will be re-directed from non-essential services and community volunteers will be requested to support the program.
Mornington Peninsula Shire Mayor, Sam Hearn, said, “We need to be at our very best as a community in these times.
“We were all so heartened by the overwhelming community response to the recent Bushfire emergency that showed the Aussie spirit is alive and well.
“This is a wonderful initiative that will see that spirit rise again as we work collectively to help those around us and support our local community."
The initiative aims to support vulnerable and isolated community members; promote social responsibility and community looking out for each other; encourage the community to get through this challenge together.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has called on the Victorian Government to urgently make changes to council meeting requirements to enable meetings to take place online.
Requiring councillors to meet face to face goes against current advice to adopt social distancing measures to slow the spread of Coronavirus.
Both the Local Government Act 1989 and the new Local Government Act 2020 require councillors to be physically in attendance at a council meeting in order to participate in council decision-making. Without a majority of councillors in attendance, councils cannot make a quorum and the meetings cannot proceed.
The MAV has called on the State Government to amend the Local Government Act to enable councils to hold meetings online or to use declaration powers under the Emergency Management Act to allow for alternate solutions.
MAV President, Councillor Coral Ross, said in-person meetings are neither practical nor safe and the availability of online alternatives makes the path forward obvious.
“Inflexible council meeting requirements under state legislation is a significant concern for local governments across the country as many council chambers do not allow for appropriate social distancing. This is an unprecedented situation which requires collaboration and innovative thinking.
“We have been proactively working alongside the Victorian Government to provide solutions which will ensure the health and safety of councillors, council staff and the community.
“With streaming and virtual meetings now widely available, we call on the Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek, and the State Government to make this common sense decision and enable one of these options to be implemented as an alternative to meeting face to face.”
Lord Mayor Sally Capp has also called on the State to fast-track changes.
“The community relies on councils to make decisions that impact their daily lives, but in the current climate we are handcuffed by the restrictions in the Local Government Act.
“We need to prioritise the health and safety of our communities while also continuing to deliver results,” she said.