When WA’s City of Kwinana appointed a new CEO back in February they were blissfully unaware of what a coup they had actually pulled off.
Wayne Jack is not only the past CEO of Napier City Council in NZ but a former Commander in the Royal NZ Navy who helped develop the Central Government’s pandemic plan during his defence career.
Mayor Carol Adams says Mr Jack’s experience is already proving invaluable as the metropolitan Perth council enacts its response to COVID-19.
“We went Australia wide and Australasia wide for a new CEO, and we end up landing on Wayne Jack,” she told Government News.
Mr Jack decided to take a holiday in Honolulu before starting at Kwinana, but while he was there the coronavirus restrictions began and he decided to fly to direct to Australia – “almost in his Hawiian shirt” – to avoid border closures.
He started work with Kwinana on April 6, fresh out of two weeks of mandatory isolation. His wife will join him after coming out of isolation in NZ.
“He assisted with writing the NZ pandamic plan so he’s certainly well equipped and he’s hit the ground running,” Cr Adams says.
“We’ve already been drawing on his expertise. It’s been really good to have somebody who can just go to and they can say, ‘yep, that’s what you do’.”
Kwinana has activated its local recovery co-ordination group for the first time and is focusing on community support and economic recovery as it prepares for life on the other side of COVID-19.
The local government area has a low socio-economic demographic with 11 per cent unemployment, and 20 per cent youth unemployment, even before the pandemic.
“Heaven knows what it is now,” says Cr Adams, who chairs the group. “We know that a lot of people have lost their jobs, including our own casual workers.”
Kwinana also has a high proportion of elderly and CALD people who are at risk of isolation and loneliness, and four per cent of the population is Indigenous .
The LGA encompasses the state’s dedicated heavy industrial area, which is still operating, but all shops and retailers apart from essential services have closed.
Council itself has been hit hard, with recreational centres, pools, playgrounds and childcare centres closed and 80 staff stood down.
Kwinana has also had two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in people working on council-owned premises.
“It really has touched very significantly on every facet that you could think of,” Cr Adams says.
The recovery group has already set up a local network group and local economic and business recovery sub-committee and Cr Adams say combating unemployment, isolation and loneliness are at the top of the list.
Other priorities include child care and domestic violence.
Cr Adams says as councils around Australia confront the pandemic, their role as communicators, organisers and anchors for the community are being called on like never before.
“We’ve never been in this situation,” she says.
“It’s not a bushfire, it’s not an earthquake, it’s not a flood. But one thing we do know is that we do have community spirit, and the more you’re connected to your community the more resilient you are.
“The important thing for councils is to get those networks on the ground, come together very quickly and respond. State government knows their agencies but we know our community.”
But she also also believes that one good thing to have come out of the crisis is that it has broken down the silos between the different tiers of government and given each level respect for what the others do.
“It’s broken down the silos because we have a joint enemy,” she says. “there’s one thing we all have in common and that’s to do the best that we can for our communities.”
Mr Jack admits he’s commencing work in extremely unusual circumstances but says he feels well prepared for the obstacles ahead.
“My primary goals during this time are to ensure the health and welling of the staff who work for the City, enabling them to continue to deliver vital community services, and to provide support to the community and business during these tough times,” he said.
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