Victoria has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and understandably we're looking to our state and federal governments for solutions.
But in an environment that changes daily, where we're hit with uncertainty like never before, the localised responses will be particularly important in our recovery.
That's why local councils, businesses groups and community organisations can't be forgotten by the other tiers of government. They will often be best-placed to know how to adapt locally, will understand some of the unique needs of a city, and as a result will achieve a better outcome more quickly.
The health response is absolutely the domain of the state government and their team of experts, just as the taxation framework is set for the whole nation by their federal counterparts.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? HAVE YOUR SAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ARTICLE
However, implementing those policy settings in a city like Ballarat is a job for us all, and we must get ready.
With so much uncertainty, how can you plan anything?
We start by accepting a few truths that have been hammered home to us by health officials ever since this awful pandemic first hit our shores:
The virus will be with us for many months to come and we'll need to learn to live with it in the short-term.
Social distancing, contact tracing and various suppression tactics like face masks will be with us for some time to come.
Working remotely will continue to feature in the year ahead for many (some by choice, others not), even as businesses start to return again.
These are things we all know from watching Daniel Andrews' daily media conferences. When we accept those few realities as likely to feature in our new 'COVID-normal', what role then can Ballarat Council play in the recovery?
We should start with good ideas based on solid data, and we should be actively canvassing the rest of the community for their short, medium and longer term recovery ideas. And we should always have a positive outlook, because if we're strategic and quick to act, we might be able to achieve great things for our city.
Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:
1. Use the real estate boom wisely to improve sustainable CBD housing
The REIV points to Melbourne house prices dropping 3.5% in the June quarter and a continuing downward trend. The same report has the regional average steady (up 0.1%) but Ballarat Central up 1.5%.
Melbourne has been starved of international migration, however Ballarat will see movement out of the capital as more people realise they can 'Zoom' from a regional area and don't need to be in Collins Street.
We must be ready for this migration out of Melbourne by building quality, sustainable housing that a former Melburnian wants to live in.
We have a rare window to encourage more central in-fill housing, particularly in the Ballarat CBD.
Let's be very clear on the heritage no-go areas, but open appropriate parts of our city to mid-rise one and two-bedroom apartments.
The dominance of three and four-bedroom large suburban houses in the current market might work for some, but addressing our shortage of smaller, central dwellings is an opportunity our CBD retail and hospitality businesses can't afford us to miss.
Imagine a Ballarat CBD that had more people living in it, as a ready market for the currently struggling shops, cafes and restaurants with these people able to walk or ride to work.
2. Support for hospitality and retail
The pandemic has shown us that we need to encourage more local spending to counter the expected drop in visitors.
Similarly, our domestic visitation from places like Melbourne needs to increase to compensate for the drop in international tourists in the short term.
Aggregated banking data can give us some interesting insights here. Prior to the pandemic, locals were spending about $15 million a month fairly consistency on Ballarat CBD hospitality throughout 2019.
A further $10 million per month was spent on hospitality by visitors, and this is where our traders are hurting the hardest.
With one of the known truths of this pandemic being the need to socially distance people, we need to get more creative in helping our hospitality and retail sectors recover.
The normal rules of trade can't apply, so Ballarat Council should open up footpaths and other areas for dining and shopping.
We must give traders more space (ideally permit free) and be prepared to think differently. If a trader wants to use a car park or two out the front for outdoor dining, let's consider it.
Why not use parts of the Sturt Street median for dining and shopping? How about large marquees near existing businesses to help them with their footprint so they can safely spread out customers?
3. Support for local contracting
While we're on the theme of helping local businesses, we should consider opportunities to help them benefit more from council spending. Being local currently accounts for 10% of the selection criteria during the tendering process, but we should consider boosting this to 20% during the COVID recovery period.
We still need to allow price, expertise and other factors to be key to allow for a competitive bidding process and good value to ratepayers.
However, where there's a major cost or expertise benefit to seeking outside contractors, as much as possible they should be encouraged to partner or sub-contract to local businesses working on council projects to deliver flow-on local benefits.
4. Project-led recovery
We need to be clear on our infrastructure priorities.
State and federal governments alike have already indicated that they will look to infrastructure projects - big and small - to create lasting community assets while stimulating jobs.
We already have a good 'shopping list' of projects like Link Road, airport upgrade and recycling facilities developments, but a good pipeline of projects for small business contractors will also be needed.
In the coming year Ballarat Council has a massive $54.6 million list of works carried over from the past financial year to still deliver ($18.8 million of that is for State Government projects).
This is on top of the annual infrastructure budget and will see works range from small changeroom upgrades to major sports facilities and roads construction.
Good project management systems that drive priorities and further support to our hardworking project officers must be a feature to get this investment flowing as quickly as possible into the community.
5. Economic development
Ballarat Council heavily backs the tourism sector with $2.7 million in annual direct funding on top of a major events program.
We need to take the tourism model and apply it to other sectors by further supporting the good work of the city's economic development team.
Our manufacturing sector is Ballarat's fifth largest employer after health, retail, education and construction.
With health and education driven by other levels of government, manufacturing is far from dead and the pandemic has highlighted our over-reliance on foreign products.
We need a Ballarat prospectus that actively sells the city as a great place to set up a business.
There are already brilliant people at council who do this, but now more than ever they need the resources and marketing campaign to highlight Ballarat over our competitors.
These are just a few ideas of hundreds out there that can help us turn one of the most disruptive, hurtful times in our recent history into a period of incredible opportunity.
We are at the cross-roads Ballarat ... so let's choose a positive path.
Daniel Moloney is a Ballarat city councillor and candidate for the North Ward
HAVE YOUR SAY BELOW