MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire is pressing the state government to classify it as a region – and not part of metropolitan Melbourne – to liberate it from the stage four coronavirus restrictions.
The shire says the harsher zoning “makes no sense on several levels and is unsafe”.
In 1966 the entire peninsula was included in the metropolitan statistical area.
The mayor Cr Sam Hearn in a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews last week blamed “lines on an administrative map and not any COVID-19 specific considerations” for its inclusion into the Melbourne metropolitan area.
He said a letter from Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton on 19 August confirmed that stage four restrictions were “implemented across the [Health] Department’s metropolitan region, including all metropolitan local government areas”.
“This includes Mornington Peninsula, despite the nomenclature of [it] being a shire,” Dr Sutton had said. “All non-metropolitan region LGAs were not included in the stage four restrictions.”
Cr Hearn said the “arbitrary classification with its oppressive restrictions aimed at clamping down on the spread of the coronavirus is stifling business on the peninsula and the social interaction that would rejuvenate it when there are no cases of the virus and none for at least the past 14 days”.
The DHHS on Sunday said the peninsula had one active case and had recorded 183 overall.
It is especially galling when other parts of regional Victoria with similar or even higher case numbers, including neighbours Bass Coast, Queenscliff, Geelong and Surf Coast, have progressed to stage two and are well on the way to re-opening for business as usual.
Cr Hearn said Queenscliff had highlighted problems for its own recovery of having the peninsula in a different category. “In effect we are the missing link in the creation and operation of a coastal corridor of all regional areas,” he said.
This is preventing the reactivation of the much-hyped tourism and hospitality economies.
The shire’s plea comes as a 10,382-signature online petition is also urging the state government to rethink the peninsula’s stage four status.
Organisers want the peninsula excluded from metropolitan Melbourne and are aiming for more than 15,000 signatures.
Originator Mandy White said the peninsula, with low numbers of active COVID-19 cases, had been forced into lockdown with the rest of Melbourne.
She said the peninsula was not classified as part of metropolitan Melbourne when it came to infrastructure spending but had been “clumsily lumped” into this category as part of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms White said more than 6000 jobs had been lost on the peninsula, which had suffered a 21 per cent fall in gross regional product (compared with a 6.9 per cent drop for Australia) and an 11 per cent drop in employment opportunities.
Business group the Committee for Mornington Peninsula called for the peninsula to have regional status after hosting a meeting of the state Opposition’s Shadow Cabinet at Rosebud in August.
The 50-member committee told Opposition leader Michael O’Brien that classing the peninsula as metropolitan was “hurting business and causing job shortages and lost government grants”.
Earlier this month the committee reported that many local businesses were “on the brink” as a result of the stage four restrictions (“Call for urgent road-out plan” The News 8/9/20).
President Shannon Smit said: “Our research shows many hospitality and retail businesses are on the brink and in desperate need of hope and a road out of the current punishing business conditions on the peninsula.”
Cr Hearn said the stricter stage four classification, which had nobbled the shire’s community services activities, made “no epidemiological sense and posed serious health risks” on several fronts. He cited ongoing lack of support and services for vulnerable families and people sleeping rough; large numbers of isolated seniors, hospitality workers trapped at home and tradespeople unable to work.