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How the virus has hit Docklands

By Meg Hill

The Docklands community and economy are, like the rest of the world, wading through an unprecedented experience.

Docklands jobs have been lost, meaning Docklands workers are unemployed. Foot traffic is down, and sales are plummeting. On Sunday, March 22, Premier Daniel Andrews announced all non-essential services would be shut down in the following 48 hours, for an indefinite period.

Here’s how events and impacts unfolded in Docklands.

Government and business

Amid announcements of federal and state government stimulus packages, the City of Melbourne passed its own stimulus valued at more than $10 million on March 17.

The package focused on small businesses in the municipality and included:

A virtual business support summit at Melbourne Town Hall;

Suspending fees for Food Act (1984) registrations and street trading permits for three months;

Halving rent for eligible tenants in Council-owned buildings for three months;

Opportunities to deploy casual and part-time staff to enhance city cleanliness and amenity; and

Developing a Rates Hardship Policy.

The business support summit, proposed by Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood, is a partnership with the state and federal governments, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In fast tracking its rates hardship policies at a special council meeting on Wednesday, March 25, councillors unanimously endorsed an economic package that included 14 initiatives to support businesses.

“As the closest level of government to the people, we are acutely aware of how devastating this virus is for our residential and business community, “ Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood said. 

“We want to send a message that we know you are going through hard times. If you are worried about your ability to pay your rates on time, please get in touch with our support hotline.”

“We will soon announce details of a virtual summit for business leaders. We need to help our business community survive this shock so they can power our economy for decades to come.”

Yearly rates notices are issued in August. For ratepayers who pay via instalment, the fourth installation due date is May 31, 2020. Businesses that fall behind on rates and charges can request that interest be waived if they are unable to pay their next instalment.

In the case of hardship, a request of assistance from Council must be made in writing, including the details of the circumstances preventing the ratepayer from meeting their financial obligation to Council.

The City of Melbourne said that it would advise of its decision in writing within 14 days for a person, or within 21 days for a body (small business), after receiving an application for financial hardship consideration, once all relevant information has been provided.

The City of Melbourne also announced that it would temporarily suspend fees such as street trading and outdoor dining area permits.

“We have fast-tracked our policy to provide options to defer, reduce or waive rates and charges levied on a property – depending on the severity of the financial impact,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“If you are facing genuine financial hardship in paying your rates, fees or charges we urge you to contact council to discuss your individual circumstances. Our phone lines are open and we have staff available to support you.”

“In partnership with Spotless Services, we will also provide cross training and employment for approximately 200 affected casual staff to be redeployed to work on improving city cleanliness and presentation.”

The Docklands Chamber of Commerce (DCC) said it had “radically altered” its focus for the foreseeable future.

“The world has changed irrevocably in a matter of days,” DCC President Johanna Maxwell said.

“What began as a health concern has quickly become the greatest economic challenge this country has ever faced. Our heart and mind are in Docklands and that’s where we are committed to helping.”

The DCC said support to its members would include:

Actively supporting, managing and advocating for any applications made to the City of Melbourne COVID-19 stimulus support package;

Actively advocating on behalf of affected members in cases of rent and fee relief from the City of Melbourne;

Working directly with the City of Melbourne in developing marketing assets and collateral so that Docklands is primed for a return to full functionality;

Profiling every single one of its 200-plus member businesses across our newsletter, socials and websites with their response to COVID-19 and directly marketing these initiatives to the local community; and

Continuing to pressure (at present behind the scenes) for permanent activation of Victoria Harbour along the lines of its lights, laser and fountains presentation.

The DCC has also advocated on behalf of charter boat operators, who have received 50 per cent in rate relief from council.

Most Docklands businesses have had to respond to the crisis with major changes. Capri Café Docklands tried to solve problems related to supply chains and stock in the major supermarkets by offering a pick-up package of essential items to customers.

Rate hardship applications opened on March 30 and ratepayers seeking support can contact 9658 9658. Small businesses should press 1 to speak to the COVID-19 Business Concierge Hotline.

Eligible businesses and organisations can now also apply for City of Melbourne grants via melbourne.smartygrants.com.au

The state and federal governments have also announced a range of stimulus measures to support businesses. On March 30, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an unprecedented $130 billion package providing businesses with wage subsididies for up to six months.

For more information on both state and federal economic support packages visit business.vic.gov.au and treasury.gov.au/coronavirus.

Community

Charities and community groups are finding it just as hard as business to navigate the crisis.

On March 16, less than a month after opening its doors, Docklands’ Think Pink Foundation was one of the first among both community groups and business to announce it would close in response to COVID-19.

“This means all our current activities that require clients to visit the centre will be suspended until the State of Emergency is lifted,” Chairman Ron Smith said.

“During this time arrangements will be made allowing clients access to Breast Care Nurse support via telephone, email and facetime. Clients can book via telephone or by using our online bookings system.”

The Docklands Pop Up Neighbourhood House has developed a Docklands Community Care Register to facilitate a community response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Through this register, we will be able to link people together during their time of isolation,” Neighbourhood House coordinator Carolynne Venn said.

Ms Venn said all participants would feel out a registration form and be matched with a suitable volunteer.

“At times like this we need to consider people who are more vulnerable than others, like our seniors, people with a disability, people with low immunity, people sleeping rough, our family members who may be vulnerable, our health workers, people living on their own, international students and others,” Ms Venn said.

“People need to have access to essential items, which is inclusive of food, personal hygiene products, cleaning materials, medications and support for their mental wellbeing.”

“It is hoped that the Docklands Community Care Register may help us work together during this difficult time.”

If you are interested in volunteering and have a current Working with Children’s Check Police Check please email: [email protected] or ring The Centre in North Melbourne and leave a message on 9328 1126.

The state government established a similar service for those in mandatory self-isolation.

Those running short on food and unable to have any dropped off by friends are now eligible for a “food and personal care package”, with a two-week supply of items like long-life milk, pasta, canned fruit, cereal and sugar, as well as some personal care items.

People wishing to request a pack should call Victoria’s dedicated Coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398.

Arts

Cr Rohan Leppert, chair of the City of Melbourne’s Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio, said some of the most immediate impacts were felt in the creative sector.

“One after the other creative directors and CEOs are calling me and saying we’re about to cancel or defer our upcoming festival,” he said.

“The arts ecosystem is very deep and very broad, and like other sectors the City of Melbourne is overexposed to there’s a lot of independent contractors and casual workers.”

Representatives of the arts and culture sector addressed the Council on March 17 to outline the impact they have already felt locally and nationally.

Matthew Peckham, production services manager at Her Majesty’s Theatre, told council hundreds of jobs in the live theatre and entertainment sector alone had already been lost in the area •

For updates and information: dhhs.vic.gov.au/coronavirus

Docklands: It’s time for a plan

Docklands: It’s time for a plan

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