Councils win on recovery work

Posted July 23, 2015

cyclone_clean-up

Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow talks to council workers during the TC Marcia clean-up.

The Local Government Association of Queensland has claimed a win in the battle to have councils reimbursed for day labour under Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

The Abbott Government has lifted restrictions that limited such funds to the use of contract labour for rebuilding work.

LGAQ President Margaret de Wit said the resolution of the issue would be a big relief for local councils anxious to ensure their communities recovered quickly from natural disasters.

And she thanked Queensland Deputy Premier and Local Government Minister Jackie Trad for playing her part in taking the fight up to Canberra.

Rockhampton Region Mayor Margaret Strelow said the decision would allow council to use its own staff to do the reconstruction works required after Tropical Cyclone Marcia, if it chose, and still be able to claim their wages.

However she pointed out that it would not apply to many of the post-cyclone measures facing the council, as opposed to the sort of road reconstruction projects generated after flood events.

“We have been going back over money already spent to understand what benefits there may be for us there,” Cr Strelow said.

“While council is grateful for the government’s extension of the day labour trial, for this event, the reimbursement does not cover emergent works and counter disaster operations, so we expect that we will only be able to claim an extra $3600 of our recent expenditure as a result of this decision. We have been very careful to use contract labour everywhere we can to maximise our claimable return.

“Given that council is still going to be out of pocket around $13 million as a result of Marcia, the changes announced will not make a great deal of difference to us.”

Major works to restore the city’s Kershaw Gardens and the Botanic Gardens, as well as excavation and restoration of creeks and waterways, were not covered by the decision, she said.

“Of eligible projects, the reconstruction of Pilbeam Drv (up Mount Archer) is probably council’s greatest infrastructure challenge after Marcia,” Cr Strelow said. “As Pilbeam Drv is still undergoing geological testing, the use of day or contract labour for the reconstruction is currently unknown.

“It will depend on where we get best value for our ratepayers and on what specialist skills are necessary.”

Ms Trad said councils had told her that external contractors were often not available to undertake work in remote communities and could not offer value for money to taxpayers.

This had prompted the State Government to take up the NDRRA issue – raising it publicly and writing to the Commonwealth on four occasions since February.

Ms Trad pointed to a trial of day labour following the Queensland floods in December 2011 and January 2012 which found councils delivered reconstruction works faster and more efficiently, saving taxpayers about $160 million.

“Unfortunately the Abbott Government and the former Newman Government allowed the trial to expire in 2014 which meant when the cyclone (Marcia) hit the National Disaster Recovery Relief Arrangements prohibited the use of day labour,” Ms Trad said.

“After many months of putting the case for Queensland forward, it’s good to see common sense has prevailed and Minister Keenan has agreed to a stopgap measure to extend the trial until the end of 2016-17 financial year.”

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