Youth Unemployment in Bendigo

In March 2019, the Brotherhood of St Laurence published a report that showed that the Bendigo region had the highest rate of youth unemployment in Victoria at 18.3 %. Those numbers are only going to rise as the economic consequences of the pandemic hit home.

I have been speaking with businesses that employ young people, and this is a serious issue. In addition, it is a priority of the Bendigo youth council, who named youth employment as a key area of the youth strategy.

There are not only the economic consequences of long-term unemployment of young people, but also the mental health consequences, and the likelihood of more young people leaving Bendigo to look for work.

Exactly how council plays a constructive role is difficult to say: local government does not set employment law, nor does it have the resources to provide financial incentives to employers to take on young people. However, I think there are few things local councils can do:

  1. To ensure existing traineeships and apprenticeships do not fail, council should play a co-ordinating role to ensure TAFE, job agencies, mental health agencies, and employers communicate with each other.
  2. To give young people much needed work experience, council needs to rapidly expand its traineeship program for young people.
  3. To equip businesses who do employ young people, council needs to fund free workshops to businesses that train managers in relating to young people.

(Photo Credit: Noni Hyett)

Community Plans For All Neighbourhoods

When it comes to exciting people about local government, “community plans” are way down the list. They don’t sound very exciting, and they prompt images of endless meetings. Let me try to convince you otherwise.

But first, what is a community plan? Community plans are formed by residents getting together (usually with a facilitator) and deciding on what things they want to work on for their community. Things like art and culture, infrastructure, business development, community connection etc – basically anything that concerns their community. Sometimes there are persistent issues in the neighbourhood that make it into the plan.

The key argument in favour of community plans is that they give residents some control over what happens in their neighbourhood. Often residents feel like they are just the powerless recipients of whatever the council wants to do, or at best the council asks their opinion sometimes. Community plans give an opportunity for us to be involved at a more active level – where we actually make things happen.

Moving from being a recipient to a producer (Source: https://www.nurturedevelopment.org/)

The other reason why community plans are great is this – once your neighbourhood has one, it gives you some authority to go to local government and say, “Look, this is what our community wants. Give us support (personnel and funding) to make this happen”. Of course, that’s always a slow process but if the council knows that this is what the community wants, they are always more likely to back it. Then, keep them accountable to it!

Bendigo council does provide assistance to communities to develop plans, if we ask for it to be done. You just need to show that there is a substantial group of people who want to get it done. However, there is also a problem on the council side. Right now, it is my understanding that although council is keen to help with community plans, it actually has no specific person to do this job. The council to expedite this process and employ someone to fill this role. In addition, there needs to be at least one council officer whose role is dedicated to regularly touching base with communities about their plans.

If you’re passionate about your neighbourhood, then phone council and request help to develop a plan – ask for the “Strong Communities” team. If want to check whether your community has a plan, then go to the Bendigo Council website and search for “community plan your neighbourhood” and see if one pops up.

Right now, two of the largest neighbourhoods in the Whipstick Ward lack a community plan – Long Gully and White Hills/Epsom. If council is serious about taking residents’ ideas seriously then this is a huge gap.

Recreation reserves are what we want

In my latest media release, I have called for more development of Bendigo’s neighbourhood recreation reserves, especially as Covid-19 restrictions limit exercise options. Council does a lot in this space, but more can be done – for example, the Ironbark Gully Trail should be expedited.

I’ve been holding a small online community survey in the last 4 weeks, and the results are clear. The top priority in people’s neighbourhoods is recreation reserves. Over 80% of people said that recreation reserves were a priority for their neighbourhood. I think this is an excellent opportunity for council to work with local residents on ways to improve their local reserves, because locals often have excellent ideas that council could adopt.

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Have a look at the results on the survey here, and take the survey here.

One recent example of a good recreation reserve project is at the Long Gully Recreation Reserve. Council workers did a great job consulting with local residents on what would work to improve exercise and fitness. The result was a footpath and exercise station around the oval – the uptick in usage is huge.

New footpath at Long Gully Rec Reserve

Recreation reserves will be used more and more over the time that Covid-19 is with us. In the last stage 3 lockdown in Bendigo, recreation reserves were used more often. This increases wear and tear, but also increases a positive sense of ownership amongst residents. Hence, councils can spend more money making these places more user-friendly and beautiful, safe in the knowledge that this is what residents want. They are an example of “palaces for the people” – free and low-cost places that everyone can gather in.

However, there are reserves where council could pick up the pace. One example is the Ironbark Gully Trail (pictured above on a National Tree Day event). A concept plan is already developed and council has even put the money aside, but not much is happening. I asked Marie Bonne, Chair of the Ironbark Gully Friends, about this. This was her view:

“A new trail along Ironbark Gully would provide much needed recreational space for families, especially as more people get out into their neighbourhood for exercise due to Covid-19 restrictions. We have the plan, and the council has allocated funding. This important project is long overdue.” Let’s get onto it, council.

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(Photo credits: 1. Ironbark Gully Friends; 2. Dave Fagg)

No Deferral of Council Elections!

Dave Fagg has criticised the proposal by the Municipal Association of Victoria to defer the Victorian local government elections.

If you’re a local politics watcher, then you would not have missed this piece of news. However, for the average punter, this would probably have passed you by. The MAV has (again) called on the Victorian Government to follow NSW’s lead in deferring local government elections for 12 months. The MAV is the Municipal Association of Victoria, one of the peak bodies for local government in Victoria. I disagree with this move, and local residents do as well.

Why does the MAV think we should defer the elections until October 2020? From their press release, it seems there are 3 reasons:

  1. Covid-19 restrictions are making it difficult for candidates to consult with their communities, and generally campaigning is more difficult.
  2. Potential candidates, especially “women and people of diverse background”, may find it challenging to make the time to campaign because of the pandemic and associated restrictions.
  3. The first 2 reasons mean that holding “free and fair” local government elections is more difficult.

What do I think about these reasons?

On the first point, I certainly agree that Covid-19 restrictions are making it more difficult to run a traditional campaign, especially for candidates in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. But difficult times call for creative solutions. I’ve been able to hold street stalls under the current restrictions, using social distancing. In addition, some candidates are holding online meetings and local organisations are planning to hold online candidate forums. Many people are using social media to find out about candidates, and residents who don’t use social media are still able to call or email candidates to raise issues of concern. I also think that local media, like radio and newspapers, need to up their game when it comes to covering the campaign – they can play a powerful role in disseminating information about candidates.

On the second point, it’s hard to know whether people (especially the groups they mention) are not putting their hand up. What’s the evidence of this phenomenon? It’s certainly not the case in my ward of Whipstick in Greater Bendigo, where a female incumbent councillor is planning to run, and two other women have already put their names forward. I’d like to know where the MAV is getting their evidence on this.

The third point is hyperbole by the MAV. Deferring local government elections is a backward step. Local democracy can’t stop because of the pandemic.

The MAV’s proposal assumes that things will be fine in 12 months time. I have very little confidence that this will be the case. It is quite possible that in 12 months time, we will be living under similar restrictions. What then? Will the MAV simply keep pushing for another deferral until things are ‘normal’ again? That is not a sustainable position. We need to push ahead with local elections despite the challenges that Covid-19 brings.