Bundaberg Regional Council’s CEO Stephen Johnston briefs councillors on its current budget in a recent council meeting. It was unknown at that time how much of an impact the coronavirus would have on its $500,000 annual surplus.
Bundaberg Regional Council’s CEO Stephen Johnston briefs councillors on its current budget in a recent council meeting. It was unknown at that time how much of an impact the coronavirus would have on its $500,000 annual surplus.

Q&A: Managing coronavirus in Bundaberg

DETERMINING how to support the community through the impacts of coronavirus measures will be among the most pressing issues for the new Bundaberg Regional Council.

With only a few months to go they will need to determine the costs of stimulus and to consider it in the next annual budget.

We ask candidates this question; “what ideas do you have to help Bundaberg endure the impacts of the coronavirus?’

Mayoral candidates

Jack Dempsey

On Tuesday I presented a mayoral minute, which the council endorsed unanimously.

It provides a range of short-term relief measures for residents, organisations and businesses including fee waivers and extensions. I have written to the Deputy Prime Minister suggesting infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy and provide employment.

Kirt Anthony

Control measurements.

There’s a lot of information getting out there, there’s a lot of lock downs so with the corona at the moment the best thing is to listen to advisers …. and just keep safe.

It’s not a good question to broadcast to the public at all. It would be better off for it to be known it’s out there, to take controlled risks.

Helen Blackburn

This is the most significant and disruptive economic downturn in generations.

It will get worse before it gets better. As a community and a region we have weathered many disasters together. From bushfires, drought, cyclones, floods and recessions, the community always finds a way to pull together when times are tough.

It will be important to follow State and Federal directions to help us endure this pandemic. And once it is over, and it will come to an end, we will need to work together more than ever and with our State and Federal members to look at ways of helping our small businesses get back on their feet.

What we have going for us is that we are a food bowl and can feed our region and further afield. We have plentiful supplies of water and beautifully clean air quality. Whilst the impacts of this pandemic in its immediacy are great and appear to be damaging our economy, it is also providing opportunity.

There are extra jobs in differing fields, such as cleaning, and hospital and pharmacy workers. When we recover there will be plentiful jobs in our agricultural industries that will need to be filled by local people.

Our cottage industries will grow as a result because people will be at home working on innovative ways to help one another. Gin Gin already has some great innovators as does Childers and following this pandemic will potentially enable some of the great ideas and innovators of the region to bring forward their talent.

Most of all we need for residents to remain calm and to work under the guidelines provided, we need to be checking on one another, albeit from a distance, and making sure we phone in on those we know are isolated to help them with their mental health and wellbeing.

We need to be strong and kind during the coming months and our Council needs to provide strong empathetic leadership which considers those who have lost incomes and financial security.

Council will need more than ever to use local suppliers to keep the local economy running and my 80% KPI, that is spending 80% of all rates, fees and charges locally, would be implemented with the help of the full council immediately. Council will need to tighten its belt and focus on its core business of ensuring waste removal, fresh drinking water and sewerage treatment. For now, those are our most important issues, and the ones which need immediate addressing.

Division 1

Jason Bartels

Now and when we (Australia) come out the other side of this pandemic, there will need to be drastic measures put in place to help our communities, residents and the region’s economy to get through the crisis and recover.

At this stage it depends on how long the situation drags on for and the best we can all do is abide by what we are being told to best manage and prevent the spread of the coronavirus and hope it is very short lived.

I hope that I am re-elected to be able to be part of the new council, and that we will be able to work with the community and all other levels of Government to provide whatever is needed to get our region back on its feet.

Scott Allison

We’ve got to look after people and look after business, that’s the main thing. Try to get people jobs, and certainly get rid of the virus. Long term we need to make sure people are employed and get people back to work as quick as possible as soon as the virus is gone that’s all there is to it.

The main thing is make sure people are healthy and safe and soon as its over lets get things rolling again and businesses working and back in jobs.

Peter Wyatt

Council health to do an information program on foetal alcohol syndrome, pregnant women, that is now recommended that zero alcohol be consumed.

The reason I’m saying that is everyone is going to be at home. Any council buildings bought, for example, the Spinnaker, should be ready to house domestic violence victims. People will be drinking at home more now than ever.

Division 2

Bill Trevor

It’s a moving timetable, I can’t tell you what we need to do in three months’ time because we’ll have to assess them as we go and make those decisions once the new council’s in place. But what I’m calling for is a national partnership between local government, state government and federal government to pick up those young apprentices that might be put off part way through their apprenticeship and create a new range of apprenticeships going forward, so that the economy will be better placed to rise once it’s all over.

Division 3

David Ferguson

In these difficult times, council policies must prioritise the essential services that are crucial to the health and wellbeing of our residents. Costs should be cut where possible, to allow for the obvious reduction in income while still allowing for measures to ease the burden on adversely affected businesses and ratepayers.

An allowance within the budget should be put aside to kickstart the local economy once the current troubles have passed. We should remain open to any new opportunities and developments post-virus.

Wayne Honor

We have to review the relief package as ratified by Council at the last council meeting to identify any further relief that can be extended for residents.

(We should) review all budget expenditure so as to identify areas that can be possibly deferred if emergency money is required for further response to coronavirus.

The council response to this crisis needs to be measured and rolled out in liaison with Queensland Health advice along with other government directives.

This is an evolving process and all measures should be considered to assist the public in their everyday life as best as possible.

It will be a case of reactive response to an evolving crisis.

Paul Bongioletti

We’ve all got an opinion about it but at the end of the day the finances are in the (federal) government’s hands.

Division 4

Tanya Lee Jones

The control of COVID-19 is a collaborative and individual concentrated effort by all residents for social distancing, personal hygiene and respect for one another.

Once the new council is in place, a review of the council’s purchasing policy (is needed) to ensure “local buy” is enforced.

This pandemic demands the urgency of an immediate commitment by all parties to commence the construction of a multi-story level 5 hospital as soon as possible.

It is my understanding that the previous Burnett Shire Council Chambers are empty at this point in time. Make that building available if required as an isolation unit for any COVID-19 cases. Or any requirement such as urgent temporary accommodation.

Tracey McPhee

At this time we really can’t fully understand the effects that this phenomenon is going to have on our local community.

I believe council should do everything it can to support small businesses because they are the ones supporting local jobs. I understand the council has already suspended council fees and charges for six months for businesses which is very helpful.

Other practical ways they can help is by reducing the pressure faced by households, for example the rates freeze that mayoral candidate Helen Blackburn is promising to implement will go a long way in supporting ratepayers who may have lost their jobs or had their hours cut.

Reducing or even cancelling interest payments on rates arrears would also relieve pressure and stress. Residents can help too, by supporting and promoting Buying Local. Don’t go to Woolies or Coles, shop at your local butcher, baker and corner store, buy a coffee from your local cafe and get yourself a meal once a week from one of the many local eateries now doing takeaway.

John Valuch

Council needs to go over its books and identify areas that are not essential council business and areas that will not be happening during the shutdown and look to reduce costs, so that the next rates’ notice is realistically reduced for ratepayers. Council needs to ensure that its core business such as water and waste continues uninterrupted.

Division 5

Greg Barnes

Any comment should come from people with the expertise to make that comment. There are authorities better placed to make any comment on that.

Division 7

Ramon Creevey

We need to follow the directions given by the State and Federal governments in relation to social distancing.

Local business that are still able to operate need our support, now and in the future. If you know of any residents that may need assistance, ask if they are okay.

Vince Habermann

The Australian Government has taken the lead with its far-reaching economic stimulus packages in response to COVID-19 and Queensland and local governments must also take drastic action.

Without knowing the costs to council, the BRC economic stimulus package which was announced earlier this week, including moratorium on interest for outstanding rates and charges and rent relief for Council-owned commercial tourism and retail shop leases, is a good starting point.

But depending on how long the pandemic continues, council may need to go much further, including reviewing and possibly changing its hardship policy to be able to provide more relief in regard to outstanding rates and charges.

Once the pandemic is over, I will be a driving force in council providing free community events to help get people back on track.

Mitch Pukallus

Planning, speed, communication and execution.

1. The federal government liaises with supermarket operators and pharmacies. They enact the military to help.

2. Each household then receives enough essential supplies for a four week period.

3. Everyone is informed that a four week isolation period will begin from a nominated date. The only people who are allowed out are those in essential services. They must commit to living away from their household for four weeks. Empty hotels can be used to house these workers for the four week period as they rest between shifts.

4. The remainder of the public commit to the lockdown with perpetrators arrested and jailed.

5. We start a collective national class action against China for losses incurred and if they don’t pay, our federal government seizes all Chinese government owned assets to help pay for the costs of this disaster.

Joseph Ellul

There is already travel advice in place in an effort to deter people traveling city to city. At this stage we remain an open playing field relying on individuals still travelling into our region to be virus free.

In order to contain the spread of COVID-19 you need to control the flow of people going to and from a particular region, in this case Bundaberg.

This is easy to do with only a couple of roads approaching the city from the outside. In addition, if we have any persons that are at risk or showing any symptoms and they self-isolate or are isolated, we could effectively stop the spread of this disease within weeks.

This coupled with stopping the flow of people coming into the area with exemption of essentials, we could promptly end the collapse of all local businesses and many lives due to financial ruin.

If you want a solution, you need a confident leadership team to make difficult decisions like this. We can have our local cases of COVID-19 isolated and managed without further spread with tougher regulations in place. After which we can start to move freely and return to work, socializing and interacting therefore increasing the need for all of the small businesses to re-employ their staff due to returning demand.

We have the ability to do this we just need the will and strong leaders to drive this. Alternatively we can continue on our current trajectory, you choose?

Division 8

Steve Cooper

There are many things that will change as this pandemic plays out. Coronavirus is a real and needs to be looked at on a day by day, hour by hour basis.

The Mayor has listed interim package that I totally support. As member of the next council (elected unopposed) I will work with my new colleagues to do whatever is necessary and within our means.

It will be our priority to support our community. We will need to make some very important decisions. It would be inappropriate to individually name these measures at this point in time, outside of earlier releases.

But I can reassure the community we will be there in the best interest of all.

Division 9

Geoff Augutis

These are unprecedented times and the situation is changing rapidly so I think it would be unwise of me to speak to any specific plans.

Overall it is just important for people to be kind and understanding to each other and support our community, whether that be local businesses or grassroots programs.

I also think it is more important than ever to have stability and strong leadership in our community, and council chambers.

Chris Foley

I believe everyone should adhere to all advice recommended and be vigilant when it comes to hygiene, as should always be the case.

This is obviously tough for businesses and I encourage everyone to utilise local businesses, show your support. Strong businesses equal a strong community.

May Mitchell

At this stage nobody can pre-empt the full impact of the virus. Nor can they foresee the positive outcomes of this virus. And there will be positive outcomes. Necessity is the mother of invention.

The current council has already introduced immediate measures to mitigate financial stress on ratepayers, residents and businesses.

The new Council needs to listen to the community during any inevitable lockdown stage and beyond, in order to best prioritise and organise how to help. Take seriously the community’s concerns and immediately address those being repeatedly raised.

This will determine where Council’s financial resources, their assets and their workforce should be applied, distributed to or re-purposed. If unemployment skyrockets long term, council should budget for projects that will employ more outside workers.

Starting now, this is a time for Council to recognise anxiousness and uncertainty will affect the relationship the council has with their ratepayers.

Ratepayers need a clear blanket assurance communicated to them that the council understands not everyone is going to be able to meet their rating commitments and council concedes to that.

Council should encourage all residents to communicate with any entity they owe money to, not just Council; encouraging people to manage their bills as best they can in the face of these adverse conditions. Companies that don’t act responsibly and compassionately to their debtors will hopefully be in the minority.

Remember, businesses are employers and they will also be hurting. They need all of us to try and pay them as well. If you are in a position to spend, spend wisely. Support local businesses. Support Australian businesses. They’re worth it.

Division 10

Tim Sayre

Why aren’t we looking at closing the roads out of where the hotspots are currently? We only have a couple of cases here that they are managing at the moment.

If the majority of cases are in the south east corner, why can’t we stop movement out of the south east corner and look at possibly reopening some businesses in this area.

It doesn’t make much sense that everybody is being affected by this whole thing. Why shut down a pub in Longreach when there are no recorded cases that far out? Why are cafes everywhere only allowed to do takeaways when we haven’t seen an explosion of cases out in the regions as yet.

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