There is no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic will impact on how we live our lives, how we move about in our community, how we work and how we interact with one another.
It is fair to say that no community will be left unscathed from this event – and the predictions are it will prevail for at least the next six months and possibly longer.
The latest advice also suggests that that there are further restrictions to come, as all levels of government seek to contain the spread of the virus – and these further restrictions will have more profound impacts on all of us in the community and on our local businesses.
Managing and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic is not simple and it will not be resolved quickly – and nor should it be grounds for cheap political promises simply to win an election.
Our community deserves more respect than that.
This situation is nothing like the global financial crisis – all reputable economists and commentators have acknowledged that this pandemic is the greatest challenge our communities and our economy have faced in a century.
What our residents need most in these circumstances is information and honesty – and that is what I have been providing to our residents and our local businesses every day for at least the last fortnight.
Now more than ever, we must look out for the most vulnerable in our community, help each other and think locally in every decision we make.
Because in doing so, we have the greatest chance of enabling our Sunshine Coast to pull through this unprecedented crisis and emerge on an even stronger footing.
As Mayor, it is incumbent on me to work with our community, our local businesses and our community organisations so we have a clear road map and are taking the right steps to ensure our Sunshine Coast comes through this stronger and more resilient than ever. That is what I am already doing.
Under my leadership, a comprehensive support and stimulus package has already been put in place for our community and for local businesses across a range of industries – so that at the end of the day, we can assist our residents to manage better and can help to keep local people employed. This package includes:
- Payment of all supplier invoices within seven days, where all the paperwork is in order and the works/or services have been supplied. Last Friday alone, Council paid out $9 million to suppliers that will keep that money moving around our economy;
- The waiver or refund of a wide range of business and community regulatory fees for things like footpath dining, food licensing, community events and commercial use of community land permits. I am also committed to seeing these arrangements extended into next financial year to assist local businesses during the recovery phase;
- Dedicated staff are focussed on processing temporary use permits and building and plumbing approvals – so that construction activity is not delayed;
- Relaxation of curfews for the delivery of essential items to supermarkets and pharmacies – so our community is getting access to groceries, medicines and other supplies;
- Waiver of paid parking in Caloundra until 30 June;
- Parking officers will now only issue fines where the infringement is a risk to public health and safety or an unauthorised vehicle is parked in a disabled parking bay – since Monday, only two fines have been issued across the entire Sunshine Coast for cars without permits parking in disabled bays; and
- Bringing forward maintenance work at council venues and looking to accelerate other capital projects so that Council can keep the work flowing to local tradies, contractors and other suppliers – which helps keeps local people employed.
I can guarantee you that our measures do not – and will not – end there.
We already have in place the ability for people experiencing difficulties paying their rates to be able to negotiate repayment plans. If I am re-elected as Mayor I will be proposing to Council that interest not be levied on these repayment plans. Our citizens doing it tough do not want the added burden of paying interest on their rates at this difficult time.
What we know is there is still a long way to go, that there are more severe impacts still to come and further costs to our community and our council. Every level of government knows that we do not yet have a full picture of the impacts on our community and our economy.
We also know the Federal Government has not activated the National Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements for this pandemic – so at this stage, there is no commitment by other tiers of government to reimburse council for its costs in responding to the impacts of the virus and the restriction measures.
So at this stage, everything the Council does to support our community through this pandemic will need to be funded by the ratepayer.
This is why I am not prepared to make irresponsible commitments to waive rates and levies that will just create at least an $11 million hole in Council’s budget at a time when our community needs Council’s support the most.
Likewise, I have already spoken to Unitywater about the need to manage costs and services and consider the impacts on their customers who do not need, and cannot sustain, increased charges at this time. Unitywater has also confirmed that waiving water and sewerage access charges for at least six months will ultimately cost $200 million, meaning significant job losses and cutbacks to their capital program.
My number one priority will be to work with the incoming Council to ensure there is no additional financial burden applied to our ratepayers of the Sunshine Coast as we help to get our community through this pandemic, get our economy back on track and get local residents back to work.
This will require a wholesale review of every element of Council’s budget and strong leadership to make that happen – in the best interests of our community.
What our Sunshine Coast cannot afford at this time is weak leadership and irresponsible decision-making. Our community needs to have someone who always puts the Sunshine Coast first, who fights for what our region needs, has the relationships with the other tiers of government to get a focus on our region and someone who builds momentum, confidence and optimism. I am the only candidate for Mayor with that experience.