Local workers fall through cracks in Morrison’s support plan

Published on Thu 9 April 2020 5:19pm

The Morrison government’s economic support packages have so far excluded local government from key assistance like the JobKeeper measure. It is a mistake to play a territorial game with the states on this issue. There is simply too much at stake. Too many workers and too many communities depend on sustainable local governments.

The acute social and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt across the community.

Local governments are working to reduce fees, rents, and parking charges to assist households and businesses through this difficult time, and they are delivering new support services for those struggling to deal with self-isolation, especially the elderly. But these changes affect the bottom line for local government, and the mandated closure of many public facilities means both a loss of revenue and the need to stand-down thousands of employees.

It makes no sense whatsoever for local government to be excluded from the JobKeeper package. Labor led the push for a wage subsidy in response to the crisis and we support the introduction of the $130 billion package, but it could and should have been broader in its scope. In parliament the government blocked Labor’s amendments, but the parliament has already given the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, the ability to make adjustments and so the exclusion of local government can be repaired at the stroke of his pen.

As it stands there will be millions of Australian workers who will not be provided with decent wage-replacing support, and who will unnecessarily be disconnected from their employing business or organisation. That puts a sharp burden on displaced workers and it means we will not be in the best position to recover when the crisis has past.

Local government is a foundation stone of community services and attractions in the form of libraries, recreation facilities, and broad arts and cultural activities. On the other side of this crisis we will need local government to lead the way in re-opening and rebuilding. The phase we are in now is survival. In the recovery phase local government will be a key partner in delivering projects, services, and events that will create work, attract visitors, support business, and encourage the broader community to get back to an active and engaged life together. But this will be seriously hampered if local government has been unnecessarily smashed and shrunken in the meantime.

In Cockburn, each month of closure will see Cockburn ARC forgo $1 million in revenue that’s ordinarily used to cover staffing costs. For now, the City of Cockburn is retaining the ARC’s 38 full and part-time staff and 200 casual workers, but that is an almost $1 million commitment that will be shouldered by ratepayers.

In Fremantle, the city will lose almost $700,000 per month in revenue with the closure of the Fremantle Leisure Centre, Fremantle Arts Centre, and loss of lease income where businesses have closed. The jobs of more than 200 Fremantle local government workers are at risk.

The Morrison government’s economic support packages have so far excluded local government from key assistance like the JobKeeper measure. It is a mistake to play a territorial game with the states on this issue. There is simply too much at stake. Too many workers and too many communities depend on sustainable local governments.

I call on the Morrison Government to work together with state governments to protect local jobs and key public services, and to ensure that the best framework is in place to support the complex recovery phase ahead.

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