The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) is calling for local councils to be included in the Federal Government’s JopKeeper program, with ALGA estimates showing up to 55,000 local government employees are at risk of being laid off.
According to Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam, social distancing measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are placing local councils under severe financial pressure.
“Local governments are doing what they can to avoid mass redundancies, including redeploying staff where possible, while at the same time also trying to provide relief and support measures to their communities and local businesses, like rate relief and the waiving of certain fees,” he said.
“Councils estimate the revenue impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national shutdown will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Without access to JobKeeper funding, the task of supporting communities while also sustaining jobs becomes much more difficult.”
In the interim, Mr. Hallam said Queensland’s 77 councils would continue to deliver essential services to communities.
“While it is business as usual – albeit amid extraordinary circumstances – we are also at a critical point where we need the state and the Commonwealth to step up and start funding our level of government properly, so we can continue to support our communities while also maintaining our workforce,” he said.
According to an ALGA statement, Blacktown City Council, NSW’s largest council, estimates its monthly revenue has fallen by $1.7 million with the closure of council-run facilities such as pools and libraries, a predicament faced by councils across the country.
“Around 90 per cent of local government revenue comes from internal sources, such as rates and service charges, with taxation accounting for just 3.6 per cent of revenue,” the statement reads.
In reference to the JobKeeper program, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that if local governments need support, “that will be provided by the state and territory governments.”
University of Technology Sydney Construction Management Professor Martin Loosemore said it was “a mystery” why Australia’s local councils were excluded from the federal stimulus package.
“The failure to include local councils (and their wholly-owned corporations) will undermine the economic and social impact these policies are meant to have,” he wrote in The Conversation.
“Business and industry are depending on their partnerships with local government to get through the coronavirus crisis.”
Furthermore, local governments are responsible for a range of critical local services that support industries such as construction, Mr. Loosemore highlighted.
“Councils provide planning and development approvals, infrastructure (such as roads and footpaths, parks, sporting grounds and swimming pools), housing, community amenities, transport and communications, recreation and culture and general public services,” he said.
Mr. Loosemore added that the majority of freight tasks, “which are central to keep the economy going”, start and finish on local government-controlled roads.
“These roads add up to about 662,000 kilometres in length – about 75 per cent of the total national road length. Of 251.2 billion kilometres travelled in 2016, 142.1 billion occurred in capital cities,” he said.
“The federal government rightly talks about partnership, collaboration and collective responsibility to get through this crisis. Local council activities are critical to the productivity, well-being and liveability of local communities and cumulatively to the nation at this time.”
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