Give us a break – Council’s plea to NSW Government

RICHMOND Valley Council is calling on the NSW Government to rethink its approach to regional lockdowns in areas which are currently COVID-free.

Richmond Valley Council Mayor Robert Mustow said the current lockdown requirements were crippling local communities and it was time to take a more common-sense approach to the restrictions.

“Our towns and villages are suffering, and I’m not sure how much more they can take,” Cr Mustow said.

“It has been a tough 18 months – and it just keeps getting tougher.

“Events have been cancelled, businesses are closed, and family and friends are separated.”

Cr Mustow said while he believed lockdowns were necessary when the virus appeared to be spreading in all directions, it was time to step back and rethink the approach in areas which were currently COVID-free.

He called for the restrictions to be eased to allow more businesses to reopen under COVID safety plans, and to restore local travel between at least the six Northern Rivers councils.

“The Northern Rivers is a connected region,” Cr Mustow said.

“People regularly travel between neighbouring towns for work, family, medical appointments and recreation.

“Without this normal exchange with our neighbours, local communities and businesses are really doing it tough.

“Businesses in the Richmond Valley have already shown they can operate responsibly under COVID safety plans; maintaining check-in requirements and appropriate social distance. It’s time for a measured and sensible approach to re-opening these facilities.”

Cr Mustow also thanked the community for coming out big time to be tested, and for rolling up their sleeves to be vaccinated, with recent figures showing 59 percent of the Richmond Valley population had received at least one jab, and 29 percent having both.

“If anyone is worried or doubting whether to have a vaccination, I encourage them to visit their doctor for an informed opinion and advice on their personal situation,” he said.

General Manager Vaughan Macdonald said Council recognised this as a difficult period for a lot of businesses, and was working to provide practical assistance to people in a range of ways.

This included providing information on government support to local business, working directly with local chambers of commerce, and hosting a business mentor through the Business Resilience Project. More details on the mentoring project are available on Council’s website.

Mr Macdonald said councillors would be examining ways to help businesses and ratepayers at the 21 September Council meeting.

He said Council already offered an interest-free payment arrangement whereby you paid a regular amount weekly, fortnightly or monthly, and he encouraged those experience difficulty making payments to contact the Customer Experience team for assistance.

“As this situation continues to develop, and government response broadens, there will be many ratepayers who may experience financial challenges,” Mr Macdonald said.

“If you are able to you are encouraged to still pay your rates when they fall due. However, we understand this may not be possible for all ratepayers. We are here to help where we can.”

Council has also been active in promoting a shop local campaign.

The Discover Richmond Valley website has a comprehensive landing page to enable residents to easily search for a local businesses to match their needs. This can be viewed here

“Our small businesses contribute enormously to the Richmond Valley economy, so if you want your business added give our team a call,” Mr Macdonald said.

“From placing orders with them, to promoting them on social media – there are a lot of ways you can help the Richmond Valley’s small businesses weather this COVID-19 storm.

“Many have revamped their websites and Facebook pages to make ordering easier for consumers in the current conditions.

“In other words, if you’re thinking about buying something, rather than log onto eBay or Amazon, check out your local Richmond Valley businesses first.”

Richmond Valley business chambers are also pushing back against the State’s recent round of sweeping COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Casino Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Gail Deegan said the current lockdown and restrictions were having a significant impact on businesses of all types in the Casino community.

“Many businesses were already struggling to keep their doors open following last year’s lock down and varying restrictions and many businesses are not eligible for the Government’s financial support,” Ms Deegan said.

“The current restrictions have meant that many people in our communities have turned to online shopping, rather than waiting for the lockdown to end.

“Local family businesses in a small country town like Casino can’t sustain the ongoing costs of rent, power and other overheads, with no or greatly reduced income.

“With no COVID cases within 100s of kilometres of Casino, it is unfair to expect small family-owned country businesses to continue to suffer.”

Evans Head Business and Community Chamber president Brian O’Farrell said the current situation was concerning for all.

“With no cases in our local area and high vaccination rates, we feel there should be a bubble to include our local government area and allow the Northern Rivers area to open for business as soon as possible,” Mr O’Farrell said.

Coraki Business Chamber president Debbie McGillan said although Coraki had a demographic of vulnerable residents, it had proven to be a resilient community in the past few years with bushfires and floods heavily impacting the region.

“The ongoing impacts from COVID-19 outbreaks and extended lockdowns is hitting our community hard and the lack of through traffic for day visitors is having an impact on our businesses,” Ms McGillan said.

“Being a regional community still without a doctor is also impacting out vaccination rates with wait lists on pharmacy appointments for vaccination bookings and the ability to secure supplies of Pfizer and Moderna.”

Woodburn Business Chamber Acting President Tony McGeary said: “The lack of through traffic due to lockdown is hitting heavy on local businesses and has had a much bigger impact on the local economy than the opening of the Pacific Highway bypass.”

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