I am unable to attend council meetings in person at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and my personal health risks (for which I have provided a medical certificate to the council). The current law in Victoria does not allow councillors to participate in formal council meetings online, so for openness, transparency and accountability, I am explaining my position on several of the council agenda items here. This is also being sent to my councillor colleagues who I have already explained my position to at Councillor Briefings in relation to the budget and waste collection. I hope they will consider my perspective in their deliberations in the chamber tonight – there is still time for them to stop this budget and change it.
7.1 Joint Letter – Historic Aleppo Pine Tree in Apex Park, Altona
I am grateful for the joint Letter requesting the Council redesign the proposed turning circle at the south-eastern end of Apex Park, Altona to preserve the historic Aleppo pine tree. I look forward to seeing the alternate designs from the council administration and encourage them to consult with the lead petitioner and the wider community about possible alternate designs.
7.2 Petition – Reinstate Weekly General Rubbish Waste Collection
I am very impressed with a community group that is able to get a petition containing 1120 signatures, which is even more extraordinary given the pandemic and social distancing. It is obvious there is a lot of community concern about the significant reduction of general waste being collected by council, as well as a widespread support for the steps the council has made to reduce waste and increase the amount of waste being recycled. A 120 litre general waste collection every two weeks might be enough for some households, and I congratulate those that are able to limit waste so much, but this is certainly not the case in many of our local households. In hindsight, and given this feedback, the council should increase the capacity of the general waste collection, and not just by allowing residents to bring their own rubbish to the council depot once a week.
Having a larger bin, or having a weekly collection does not mean people will produce more rubbish, nor will it mean people will stop recycling or trying their best to reduce waste. It will mean households can continue to reduce their waste, but that they do not have to experience unnecessary stress if they have a little more waste than usual in a week – or try to dispose of the excess rubbish elsewhere. At the moment, if a household has extra rubbish they have to save it for the next rubbish collection in 2 weeks. Some have disappointedly resorted to dumping rubbish or putting rubbish in other people’s bins. Sometimes in the wrong bin because they are desperate. If they do save their excess rubbish for the next collection cycle they start the next rubbish fortnight with even less space in their bin. It becomes a vicious cycle and puts unnecessary stress on families. Families are already experiencing enough stress with the pandemic.
I understand there is a financial cost if the council increases the amount of general waste being collected, but we as a council have to be reasonable and provide the rubbish/waste services residents need. Given the feedback from many residents – including these 1120 petitioners and many I have spoken to – I do not believe the standard general waste collection service is enough. I look forward to the report from officers following their discussions with the lead petitioner and hope it will result in an improved general waste service.
8.2.1 Proposed Annual Budget and Rating Strategy 2020-21
I strongly oppose the proposed annual council budget being presented at tonight’s council meeting during this pandemic and at a time where unemployment is around 10% and the country is about to experience the greatest recession in generations. In this climate it is inappropriate to propose a 2% rate increase and $26.5 million surplus. I call on the council to note the new budget timeline announced by the Premier, and to:
(a) review the budget in light of the overwhelming impacts of the pandemic to our community, including businesses, residents and landlords; and
(b) commit to introducing a scheme that supports ratepayers (including residential and commercial ratepayers and landlords), by providing a 50% discount (not deferral) to ratepayers experiencing hardship.
Many members of our community are experiencing significant hardship as a result of the pandemic. Many businesses have stopped trading or are struggling to stay afloat. Many people cannot pay bills including rent, utilities and rates. Many families have had their incomes cut because people have lost jobs or their tenants cannot pay rent. Residents and businesses are in extreme stress and the situation isn’t likely to improve in the short term. To announce a proposed budget with a $26.5 million surplus and a 2% increase at this time is completely inappropriate.
The report on tonight’s agenda acknowledges the impact of the pandemic, but with respect, I do not accept that there has not been sufficient time to review the proposed budget. The Federal Government has had sufficient time to close our borders (initially limiting travel from mainland China on 1 February and to all non-citizens and non-residents from 20 March) and to introduce many measures including the $130 billion JobKeeper program. The State Government declared a State of Emergency on 16 March and announced a $1.7 billion economic survival and jobs package on 21 March. They did all of this while also preparing our health care system to be ready to treat infected Australians, introducing social distancing, repatriating Australians from overseas, etc. The council should have already revised the proposed budget. At the very least they should not have put this disturbing and irresponsible budget out to the public for consideration.
As a council we must join the federal and state governments in doing what we can to support our local community including local businesses, ratepayers and residents. Increasing rates and seeking a $26.5 million surplus at this time is obscene and un-Australian.
If we’re all in this together, why is the council budget immune?
Click on the links below to access the documents for tonight’s council meeting:
Cr Tony Briffa JP
Councillor, City of Hobsons Bay
(14 April 2020)