Protecting the community and the economy from the impacts of the coronavirus is front of mind for leaders at all levels of government including local government.
The Local Government Association of Queensland has been working to ensure the voice of councils is heard in both the preparation for and the response to the pandemic.
That includes advocating for stimulus to help our local economies weather the virus. We welcome the Commonwealth’s announcement on Thursday of a funding package to help businesses including the tourism industry.
However, it is important that when governments are making these types of fiscal interventions, we consider how we can create both an immediate boost as well as ensure that it is productive with longer term benefits.
This is why the LGAQ has been highlighting to both State and Federal Government the value of the local government sector when looking for these stimulus responses.
Covering every inch of the state, local government will not only be there for the long term, they are acutely aware of what the local needs are, but where and how the injection can have the longest and biggest multiplier impact.
The LGAQ has highlighted the powerful impact a program like Works for Queensland can have and how it offers evidence to style stimulus packages to help address the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Works for Queensland has proven one of the most successful programs thanks to the cooperation between State and councils to get things done. Councils know what their communities need. They know where any stimulus will work best, and they have been proven to be the most effective level of government in delivering it.
It’s not just the Works for Queensland program where the effectiveness of councils in delivering economic stimulus has been demonstrated.
A report by leading consultancy firm EY into the Federal Government’s Drought Communities Program Extension found it was successful because the money was given direct to councils to distribute.
The EY review found the “impact of the program is increased by providing councils with the means to create economic stimulus relevant to the unique requirements of their community”.
It also found that providing funds directly to councils “likely increases the speed at which economic stimulus can reach communities by reducing administration efforts”.
It is these widespread, scalable and reliable responses that offer high quality public policy outcomes.
They also ensure that the impacts deliver broader legacy impacts that position the community to respond quickly and more rapidly once the challenge has passed.
While on the topic of coronavirus, there have been questions raised in the media about any likely impacts on the upcoming March 28 Local Government Elections.
We are in constant contact with the Electoral Commission of Queensland as well as the relevant state authorities and have daily communications regarding the issues being raised by councils. The ECQ has advised it is monitoring advice from the Queensland Chief Health Officer and at this stage there will be no change.
We will keep you informed of any changes. Councils have also suggested other responses and while we pass them on it is important to understand that these will be impacted by legislative processes and will no doubt be being considered by the government in their own business continuity planning.
This week also saw a meeting between all local government mayors and the State Government to ensure that our responses aligned and there is an effective communication channel.
It is clearly important that our community and our organisations see that we are preparing and mitigating around this.
This is to ensure we meet our duty of care obligations to our staff; we provide appropriate and measured responses based on the best information and we keep the highest level of public confidence in our sector at this time.
Ensuring that the community see our levels of government are working constructively together has never been more important.
This morning we were advised that the latest tranche of local government reforms, including new integrity offences affecting both councillors and State MPs, will not return to parliament until later this month.
We had hoped that this would have been debated and enacted prior to the new term to avoid different arrangements coming into effect and councils having to hold meetings knowing that the rules will change.
While not ideal, the more important issue for local government is that the Government adopts the new dishonesty offences as drafted and does not change the law to suit the Crime and Corruption Commission’s call for the element of intent to be removed.
Councillors should not face jail time for administrative errors or innocent mistakes.
The LGAQ has fought hard to ensure the State keeps the element of intent in its new dishonesty offences.
It is not just the LGAQ arguing for the element of intent to remain in the new offences.
Former Attorneys-General, the legal fraternity and civil libertarians all agreed argued strongly against any move to remove the element of intent.
The Clerk of Parliament and the Ethics Committee also made a rare foray into the debate to argue against introducing a strict liability offence.
The Parliamentary Committee also did not recommend a change.
We urge the Government and the Parliament to ensure the laws are passed as intended.
This is critical at a time when we have 1500 Queenslanders vying for a position at the March 28 local government elections.
We are also dealing with the coronavirus.
The sector needs certainty and confidence. The community also needs to know both levels of government can work together and are not being distracted by other things at this time and to focus on those this that matter to communities.
On that note, on behalf of the LGAQ I would like to express our condolences to the families of those killed in the tragic Lockhart River plane crash on Wednesday and to the Lockhart River community including those council workers involved in supporting the recovery efforts.
Our CEO Greg Hallam will be back on deck next week.