Wyatt rescue package

THE City of Fremantle says it will look closely at the details of a $100 million low-interest loan package offered by the McGowan government before applying.

The council has been lobbying the federal and state governments hard after both earlier ruled out local government bail-outs, saying its exclusion from JobKeeper payments coupled with a plunge in parking and commercial rent revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic were putting it in a parlous financial position.

On Thursday the WA government responded with the loan package, which will also be available to WA universities.

To be eligible, applicants will have to show how Covid-19 will impact their cash flows in the next financial year. There’s no limit to loans, but Treasury will look at a councils’ ability to repay before doling out the cash.

Fremantle council CEO Philip St John welcomed the package.

“The city is pleased the state government has recognised the considerable financial impact the Covid-19 crisis is having on local governments and the offer of any kind of support is very welcome,” Mr St John said.

“We will look very closely at the details before deciding whether to draw on the lending facility or how it could be used.

“This will be part of the council’s budget deliberations for next financial year, noting that applications to draw on the lending facility will open on June 1.”

Mr St John didn’t respond to questions on whether the council would consider the loan to reinstate services which have been cut or suspended, or staff that had been stood down.

Treasurer Ben Wyatt said the loan facility would be reviewed within three months and could be increased if there was strong take-up.

“I encourage local governments and universities to take advantage of the historical low interest rates to bring forward projects to support local communities and the economic recovery from Covid-19,” Mr Wyatt said.

Federal Labor MP Josh Wilson has called on the Morrison government to also step up and provide a stimulus package to help councils fast-track small-scale capital works.

He says it would boost economic activity, business engagement and jobs.

“It’s hard to think of a better delivery partner that local government, which is well-placed to prioritise community need and well-structured for the task of managing risk and securing value for money,” Mr Wilson said.

He says Cockburn, Fremantle, East Fremantle and Melville had “shovel-ready” projects, including upgrades to the Wally Hagan rec centre in Hamilton Hill and the crumbling cliffs and historic Roundhouse in Fremantle.

East Fremantle council recently audited its stormwater drains and found problems that could affect the health of the Swan River, and CEO Gary Tuffin said they welcomed Mr Wilson’s support in seeking funding for a project that could go a long way to stimulating the local economy.

“A Commonwealth-funded program that partners with local governments around Australia to deliver well-considered and job-oriented projects should be a key plank in recovery planning,” Mr Wilson said.

By STEVE GRANT

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