Queensland councils launch $608m virus ‘battle plan’

 

A TRIO of critical economic support measures for Cairns has emerged as councils across Queensland launch a COVID-19 battle plan to protect their communities and economies amid the public health crisis.

The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) will today unveil its $608 million campaign for State Government assistance to create 14,000 jobs and prepare communities to bounce back after the pandemic.

Workers on site at the Florence St upgrade between Abbott and Lake Streets. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN
Workers on site at the Florence St upgrade between Abbott and Lake Streets. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN

The measures include a $200 million statewide job creation program modelled on the Works for Queensland initiative to support more than 8000 jobs, with half of the funds earmarked for areas outside the state's southeast corner.

The LGAQ is also calling for a 3000-strong Green Army workforce to be assembled to focus on protecting the environment for the benefit of critical sectors such as agriculture and tourism.

Local governments' final demand is for a new local government and apprenticeship guarantee providing 800 new or displaced workers with a pathway to gain experience and skills.

Cairns Council maintenance workers Ivan Orsag and Jack Booker at work in Redlynch. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS
Cairns Council maintenance workers Ivan Orsag and Jack Booker at work in Redlynch. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS

"Councils are already on the front line and have been doing what they can to support vulnerable households and businesses through a wide range of initiatives, such as not pursuing outstanding rates, waiving certain fees and charges and accelerating payments to local suppliers to keep money circulating in the community," LGAQ president Mark Jamieson said.

"The Commonwealth, the level of government best resourced to ensure local government is properly funded to meet demand during this crisis, has knocked back a request to include councils in its JobKeeper program and, in doing so, has made our task that much harder. Councils are now seeking to work with the state to fill some of that gap."

Cr Jamieson said the LGAQ would continue to lobby the Commonwealth to play its part through initiatives like boosting financial assistance grants by $2 billion nationally.

Cairns Regional Council Mayor Bob Manning has backed the battle plan while throwing his support behind three key projects for the city.

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

He said support for the aviation industry would be critical for the Far North economy - as would funding to finally get the ball rolling on the $40 million Cairns Gallery Precinct to create construction jobs and a critical tourism asset ready for when travel bans were lifted.

Cr Manning said it was equally important for the State Government to come to the rescue of the Cairns Aquarium, which could face permanent closure without assistance.

"It's the only one built in the past 17 years or so, I think, in the world, and it pushes through about 400,000 people per year," he said.

"Then you've got an old, somewhat dilapidated aquarium in Townsville with about 100,000 throughput, and yet it got a $21 million grant just a couple of months ago.

"That just doesn't add up.

"I've got no flag to fly for them at all, but they're doing a job, and my concern is seeing that we don't lose industries like this.

"You talk about saving Virgin, well this is no different.

"Nobody saw this coming.

"This is something that has and would have been successful - are we just going to let that slip away?"

LGAQ chief executive officer Greg Hallam has labelled the local government battle plan "fast and furious but also local and logical at the same time".

He said local governments were nimble enough to get the necessary work done quickly and to reboot the economy.

"We can start delivering in weeks, not years," he said.

Originally published as Queensland councils launch $608m virus 'battle plan'