By Lord Mayor Sally Capp
As we adjust to a radically different way of life, Melbourne must remain a caring city that lends a helping hand during tough times. We know this is an extremely stressful situation for most people and looking after those most at risk has never been more important.
All levels of government are joining forces to combat COVID-19 and, amid the lockdown, the City of Melbourne is continuing to deliver essential services for the community. Waste and recycling, services to older people, family and children’s services and support for the homeless are essential public health functions.
Meals and in-home services are being delivered to more than 600 older residents and residents with a disability, family violence and counselling services are being increased, child care centres remain open and maternal and child health support is being provided over the phone and via video conferencing. We continue to provide our community immunisation service, our daily support team is helping to find shelter for people sleeping rough, and cleaning services have been ramped up across the city.
The situation also calls for us to help each other through the traumatic economic shock of a sudden shut down. State and federal governments are offering billions of dollars in support for businesses and workers who have already lost their jobs. Local governments are also doing their bit for cafes, restaurants, artists and myriad other small enterprises that are the heart and soul of our neighbourhoods.
About 80 per cent of 16,500 businesses within the City of Melbourne are small businesses. They are family operations, sole traders and small firms that have taken a risk to turn their ideas into a livelihood and provide jobs for others. Real people are impacted, not just balance sheets.
As the level of government closest to the people, local councils have a direct and personal connection to many small business operators and their staff. How can we best support them and ensure they survive this ordeal? The speed and strength of our recovery will depend on the moral support and financial lifeline we provide through this period.
The City of Melbourne recently announced a $5 million support package that includes waiving fees for certain licences, registrations and street trading permits for three months, allocating special grants for e-commerce and online activities, halving rent for tenants in Council-owned buildings, and establishing a rates hardship policy. Queen Victoria Market offers an essential food service and its 600 traders will receive 100 per cent rent relief for the next three months.
Melbourne is also a city of artists and performers, and they are among the hardest hit by the downturn. The City of Melbourne is providing $2 million in grants to help them and smaller creative organisations plan and create their next work or showcase their performances online. They form the backbone of our city’s cultural life and in more normal times their creative contributions uplift other businesses, attracting visitors from far and wide, especially at this time of year.
The City of Melbourne has established a Business Concierge service to provide one-on-one advice on accessing financial support, services and information. The support packages for businesses and our creative community have generated hundreds of enquiries and thousands of applications. There are so many people in need, but no easy way to keep everyone sustained.
We ask landlords to consider temporary rent discounts for local businesses, while those of us able to weather the storm should take the opportunity to spend online or by phone with local retailers and eateries. Organise home delivery from a favourite dinner spot or order a book from the local bookshop. They are small gestures, but will help the commercial heart of our communities to keep beating.
While our city is strangely silent, missing the million people who would normally be moving through the streets, safety and security remain top priorities. Many shopfronts are closed and thousands of residents are at home. The City of Melbourne’s on-street compliance team is monitoring the streets daily, working closely with Victoria Police. Our cleaning services are taking the opportunity to sweep, scrub and disinfect the city. Coordination with our community service providers and state government has helped most of rough sleepers into temporary accommodation so they can receive care. No one should be left behind and it’s inspiring to see how deeply Melburnians feel about this.
I for one am not surprised. The depth of our generosity for others was on display during the state’s horrendous summer bushfire crisis. Little did we realise worse was to come. Melbourne, we are a caring community that puts people first and there will never be a better time to reinforce that notion •