Local democracy alive and well despite lockdown

Council meeting (5 August 2020) delivered a major win on early education and childcare services and provided a platform for thoughtful contributions to Council’s 20/21 Budget and revised Council Plan. The engagement of people across Port Phillip sends a strong message to candidates preparing to run in the October Council election.

Wednesday night’s Council meeting (5 August 2020) was a vindication of local democracy and a demonstration of the strength and passion of communities across Port Phillip.

In particular, it delivered a major win on early education and childcare services and provided a platform for articulate, thoughtful contributions to the development of Council’s 20/21 Budget and revised Council Plan.

This is our take on the August Council meeting.

A major win for local child care and early education services

Councillors voted unanimously to continue the City of Port Phillip’s commitment and investment in high quality council run early education and care services as being in the public interest.

Hundreds of local parents and early educators have been advocating for this over the past two years and are enormously relieved to have the issue finally resolved.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how essential childcare and early education services are for families – essential for working parents, essential for the early development of young children and essential for children whose families are vulnerable especially in these precarious times. Council’s decision is therefore even more significant. By continuing its direct provision of early education and care services and its funding support to the not for profit community managed childcare sector, Council has recognized how critical these services are to our sense of a community that cares for each other.

But COVID-19 has also exposed the unaffordable cost of childcare and the need for new funding arrangements for this critical area. Arguments for free childcare have been raised in many quarters and it is hoped that Port Phillip Council will join with others to press the Federal Government on this issue.

Read more about the value of childcare here.

Local democracy alive in Port Phillip: the community engages with the Council’s Draft Plan and Budget for 2020/21

Anyone listening in to the City of Port Phillip Council meeting this week would have been struck by the level of community engagement with the Council budget process. Council received 297 written submissions and close to 30 people spoke to submissions on the night. There were traders’ groups, sporting clubs, small and large environment groups, community service and housing groups, as well as resident organisations, including both the Community Alliance of Port Phillip and Progressive Port Phillip. The Ratepayers of Port Phillip group didn’t speak to the Draft Budget for 2020/21.

Some highlights from the night:

  • The Fitzroy Street Business Association offered co-funding with Council to ensure the next step goes ahead for revitalizing Fitzroy Street - the Renew Australia partnership for co-ordinated pop-up activation of vacant shops and a longer term curated ‘Go Local’ plan to meet local resident needs for the shopping strip;
  • Support for the EcoCentre re-development plans from a range of individuals and groups;
  • Calls for Council to bring forward all kinds of local infrastructure and asset maintenance programs as part of their COVID-19 response to stimulate our local economy;
  • More targeted rate and rent relief for local businesses doing it tough;
  • Support for Council increasing its commitment to social and affordable housing and reducing homelessness;
  • Local project ideas for the environment, from community planting in open spaces and community gardens to a stormwater harvesting feasibility study to water Catani gardens;
  • Support for Council’s commitment to local artists through its Arts recovery program; and
  • Calls for Council to be bold in its response to the current crisis, with a prudent program of borrowing and appropriate use of reserves.

Council will strike its Budget for 2020/21 on Wednesday 19 August. Let’s hope Council is inspired by the extent of community participation in the Budget process and will now act on many of the ideas they have received for making our community stronger in the coming year.

The engagement of people across Port Phillip sends a strong message to candidates preparing to run in the October Council election.

You can read the verbal submission made by Progressive Port Phillip below and the full submission here.

Dr John Spierings spoke to Progressive Port Phillip's submission. This is what he said:

During this pandemic, Council has taken important steps to redeploy staff and provide funding to supply food and other essentials to residents doing it tough; provide rate and rental relief packages to businesses and residents; and directly support artists and their work among other measures.

Now is the time to step up further.

It is time to both act on the needs of the community right now and to plan for the future. We know this is not easy when the pandemic and a deep recession are upon us - the future seems so uncertain.

So Council must be flexible and responsive in these circumstances.

It must invest in local jobs.

As immediate steps we suggest prioritising:

  • Giving further consideration to targeted rate relief for residents and businesses in receipt of JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, especially as these programs are stepped down over coming months
  • Working closely with trader organisations to ensure that retail shopping strips in the municipality pull through this crisis
    • We strongly support a number of proposals including those from the Fitzroy Street Business Association and Acland Street traders, for co-investment from Council to kickstart a true revival of our local shopping streets and small businesses
  • Reversing proposed cuts to the library book vote, Council assist services, early childhood services, community grant programs, streetscaping and tree planting and other services
  • Pulling forward the capital works that are slated for delay
  • Investing in local jobs and addressing ageing social and physical infrastructure through the fast-track, easily doable and necessary small project and maintenance work we have suggested in our budget submission

As well, Council should take on larger projects that will provide new social infrastructure and help prepare residents and the community for the impact of dangerous climate change.

The community rightly expects Council to be financially prudent and these measures can be delivered through a combination of savings, borrowings and strategic and judicious use of reserves as we have outlined.

Such a package is affordable and responsible and will make a tangible difference to the local economy and local jobs. It will build assets for the future.

We must come out of this crisis in a way that leaves no-one behind, and that ensures our children have a future to look forward to, rather than a future to fear.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you this evening.