President’s column – 13 March 2020

ALGA President David O'Loughlin gestures at a lectern

Today I’m attending COAG where the Prime Minister, First Ministers and I, on behalf of our sector, will discuss the issues currently impacting our country. These include bushfire relief, drought, violence against women, mental health, the proposed waste export ban, and the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

Bushfire relief has been slow, despite best efforts of governments. More must be done – and faster – if regional lives, towns and economies are to recover.

Drought still oppresses too many, and the pressures on mental health services from both fire and drought impacts are high.

Many councils are already taking action to provide support to women in difficult situations and any assistance is welcome.

And, while we all aspire to be greener and less wasteful, the proposed waste export ban needs significant support from all levels of government to create new markets and demand for our yellow bin contents if we are to be successful.

But, most pressing at this COAG meeting is the immediate need for all governments to look at how we can support our communities and economies to withstand and recover from the impact of COVID-19. Success depends on our efforts being complementary and coordinated. As the situation continues to develop, it’s vital you stay updated on the current information by taking advice from your state and territory governments and bookmarking this link.

For local government, our roles and responsibilities during a COVID-19 outbreak are outlined under the Emergency Response Plan for Communicable Disease Incidents of National Significance in Section 2.1.1.

I encourage you to have a read of the document, which mainly directs councils to work closely with their state and territory governments to support preparedness, implementation of response measures and recovery, as well as communication of messages to the local community.

We’re already on the right track as most state and territory governments are actively engaging with their councils in preparing for the escalation of COVID-19 in their jurisdictions. And most councils are already taking action, briefing staff, providing hand sanitiser stations, reconsidering event bookings, and preparing for escalation.

An unexpected side effect of COVID-19 here in Australia has seen consumers panic buying items such as toilet paper and hand sanitiser, putting additional pressure on our supermarkets and freight providers to keep shelves stocked up. This has led to a call from the major retailers for council delivery curfews to be temporarily lifted so that distributors can quickly replenish stock.

As the level of government closest to our communities, it is our responsibility to balance the amenity of our local residents with the need to facilitate restocking and delivery to supermarkets and shops of essential household items, as well as to play our role in minimising distress due to stock shortages and to help restore confidence.

While the temporary lifting of curfews is a matter for individual councils, it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that our communities continue to operate without disruption. In special circumstances, such as those we’re facing at the moment, there needs to be a degree of flexibility to ensure communities can access what they need in a timely manner.

It’s just one of a number of challenges we will all face at home, within our communities and our councils in coming weeks. At times like these it’s important we recognise the vital role we provide in community leadership. People will look to us for guidance, for advice, for comfort and for confidence that we are as well placed as we can be, and that we will get through this, together, just as we have for fires, floods and drought in the past where we have stood by them as we continue to do for many of our communities.

Keep up the great work, because local leadership is the most connected leadership.

Mayor David O’Loughlin  
ALGA President