Letter to the Premier from Mornington Peninsula Shire

Published on 18 September 2020


Dear Premier
Mornington Peninsula Shire Council once again call on the State to reconsider its position regarding counting Mornington Peninsula Shire within the Metropolitan cohort for COVID-19, it makes no sense on several levels and is unsafe.
With this week’s announcement that regional Victoria has reached the necessary trigger point to progress to the Third Step of the Victorian government’s re-opening map, the Mornington Peninsula Shire is calling on the state government for a more tailored approach to address its unique circumstances.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mornington Peninsula has been classified as a metropolitan municipality, unlike its southern coastal ‘neighbours’ of Bass Coast, Borough of Queenscliffe, City of Geelong and Surf Coast Shire. Municipalities that share many similarities with the Mornington Peninsula.
There is significant concern with summer being just around the corner that we will be inundated with visitors and we won’t have had the time our neighbours do to implement the necessary changes outlined in the government’s roadmap. An easing of restrictions will give us this valuable time and opportunity. In fact our neighbouring area of Queenscliffe has contacted us in recent days to highlight the problem it is for their recovery to have the Mornington Peninsula categorised differently, in effect we are the missing link in the creation and operation of a coastal corridor of all regional areas. They have told us this is preventing the reactivation of the tourism and hospitality economies that the State Government has spoken about, and we understand the Mayor of Queenscliffe will be writing to the State Government about this issue.
All of this is now occurring in the context that the Mornington Peninsula has now achieved zero cases in 14 days.
This passes all the thresholds the State Government has set to move to Stage 3, to Stage 2 and even to Stage 1. At the same time the State has walled off the Peninsula from Melbourne while still declaring it to be part of Melbourne. On the 19th of August we received a letter from the Chief Health Officer that clearly stated the rational for our inclusion in metropolitan Melbourne’s Stage 4 occurred purely because of lines on an administrative map – and not because of any COVID 19 specific considerations. I quote: “Stage 4 restrictions were implemented across the Department’s metropolitan region, including all metropolitan local government areas (LGA). This includes Mornington Peninsula, despite the nomenclature of being a Shire. All non-metropolitan region LGAs were not included in the Stage 4 restrictions.”
Not only does this make no epidemiological sense it has serious health risks on 3 fronts.
First, there is a deep mental health risk of continued lockdown in areas that do not have city services. As the only major tourist area in Victoria not in Stage 2 we have large numbers of isolated seniors, hospitality workers trapped at home and tradespeople unable to work.  The risk of depression and mental health challenges in an area with zero cases is extreme and unjustified. This is compounded by the fact that, contrary to many of the stereotypes we have seen held of the Peninsula, we have some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged and marginalised communities – with statistics like a 10 percent higher rate of family violence than Greater Melbourne as well as being the sixth highest rate of rough sleeping of all LGA’s in the state. With zero cases now in 14 days the greatest health risk is the ongoing lack of support and service provision for these vulnerable families and people.
Secondly, the current lockdown exacerbates the future Covid health risk. Whereas other areas in regional Victoria are able to prepare now for greater numbers later, there is no capacity for Peninsula businesses to prepare and practice Covid Safe business plans now as they are simply locked down. In a similar way we cannot begin to implement and test drive COVID safe systems across our townships and beaches with our local population ahead of greater visitation.
Third, there is a deep safety and environmental health risk.  We have a high number of vacant homes and after massive recent rains and with warmer weather there will be huge unmanaged grass and bush growth in the lead up to summer. The owners cannot visit these homes, and unlike other regional areas, nor can they employ maintenance people to work outside and alone under your current rules. In short, a massive bushfire risk is being created under the current restrictions. If owners cannot visit, then surely our restrictions can be eased so local tradespeople can operate alone outside to repair the house and remove undergrowth and fire hazards.
We look forward to working with you constructively to achieve the very best outcomes for our community in the face of these challenges.
Kind regards,
Councillor Sam Hearn
Mornington Peninsula Shire

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