Shared values on show at Melbourne-West Java dialogue

“They say ‘never waste a crisis’…. We have focused on our values and our priorities”

– Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp


Common leadership approaches, the human stories of this crisis, and the value of international dialogue were centre stage when Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp joined West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil at the AIC’s fourth In Conversation Webinar on 14 May.

“COVID is affecting everybody. No exceptions,” said the Governor, a point highlighted early in the crisis when the first confirmed case in West Java’s City of Bogor was the mayor, Dr Bima Arya, who also joined the webinar as a special guest.

Watch or listen to the full webinar: How governments respond to COVID-19

While previous pandemics all had geographic or even socio-demographic limitations, the Lord Mayor said, “we don’t have a manual for dealing with [this one] so it’s really important that we keep sharing and learning.”

Cue webinar.

Ridwan Kamil set a warm tone holding up a hand-scribbled ‘I miss Melbourne’ sign during introductions by moderator Helen Brown. “We miss you too!” replied Sally Capp.

Protecting people’s health and jobs were naturally shared priorities by all. One creative strategy in Melbourne has been reassigning city employees to more immediately pressing roles, including librarians taking on street cleaning and sanitising duties.

The city is in the “survive” stage, Sally Capp explained, looking ahead to the “thriving” stage and then to recovery. Current initiatives include providing hotels for almost everyone sleeping rough in the city (about 1000 people) and close liaising about the science of the virus with the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute.

Ridwan Kamil, Governor of West Java, speaks at the webinar. Top image: Ridwan and Sally Capp at brunch in West Java a few years ago. (Credit: Jabarprov)

Ridwan Kamil spoke of three stages also: the health crisis, the economic crisis – and “we are hoping that we don’t have to get to the third situation, what we call political and social crisis.”

His strategies for the health crisis have included giving healthcare workers who can’t stay at home “the hero treatment”, placing them in 5-star hotels, and starting local production of 80 per cent-accurate rapid test kits, and ventilators at a cost of just USD 1000 each.

He has redirected all funding and other resources from non-vital initiatives towards handling Covid-19, making it economically possible to place the whole province in “partial lockdown” from 6 May – but maintaining health and order throughout that is a tightrope walk.

“[I am] responsible for 50 million people,” said the Governor. “The President of South Korea has more or less the same, 51 million people, but my budget is only one per cent of South Korea’s…. That’s the challenge in West Java.”

The new poor

Both leaders are dealing with a large ‘new poor’ group that has suddenly, and often for the first time, found themselves in need of social assistance payments, albeit in vastly different contexts.

“Before COVID, we subsidised only 25 percent of our people,” said Ridwan Kamil.

“During COVID the experts said, ‘Mr Governor, you will have to provide for 40 percent of your people’. But actually, it turned out to be 63 per cent, so with only one per cent of South Korea’s budget, I have to subsidise two thirds of my people: 38 million lives.”

The Governor outlined a four-step strategy for managing this, and for generally minimising economic damage:

  • Rp. 10.8 trillion (AUD 1.1 billion) went towards a social safety net, “to try to survive in the next four months, assuming that in the month of July everything will be okay.”
  • Factories have been allowed to open, provided they fund and organise mass testing, “from the CEO to the office boy to security.”
  • Plans are in motion, similarly to after the 1998 financial crisis, for human intensive infrastructure projects (padat karya) to put more people back into work quickly. “If you want to build roads or bridges, you need to use unemployed people as labourers.”
  • He is also pushing digital economy infrastructure. “This hopefully will [allow] much more of the economy to be open during the pandemic.” Improved digital infrastructure would have a long term effect also, improving equitable access to education, health and other services beyond the pandemic.

“My question for Sally,” continued Ridwan, is “during this time, are you allowing some economic activity to open? And what’s the reason for a decision that this business can open, and that business cannot? I want to learn from Melbourne.”

“The federal and state governments,” responded the Lord Mayor, “together with cities, have identified essential services and those industries have stayed open.” She then elaborated on what qualified and why, and offered to continue the discussion off air.

Melbourne’s famous Hosier Lane, a strange sight without its crowds of sightseers. (Credit: Broadsheet)

In terms of assisting Melbourne’s newly jobless, Sally Capp noted that the federal government’s “generous Job Keeper program” had guaranteed an income for certain workers, but not all.

“It’s also shown us those groups that very easily slip through the cracks. For example… international students don’t qualify… so we make sure that at the very least they’ve got the essentials like accommodation and food. We need to be a caring city.”

To keep more people in work, the City of Melbourne has supported smaller businesses with grants for:

  • staff training and professional development to keep people engaged
  • digital and technology responses such as building online business platforms
  • building up the supply chains for delivery of online services
  • capital works grants

“When we can lift restrictions, we need this city to be up and ready to go in force,” she declared.

In forcing reflection on values and priorities, Sally Capp concluded, the pandemic had made the city better in some ways, such as in its support for the city’s rough sleepers.

“[That program] has meant that we’ve gone leaps and bounds ahead of where we were. Now our challenge is to maintain the current level of support so that we don’t go back again.”

Watch or listen to the full webinar: How governments respond to COVID-19

Picture of Tim Fitzgerald

Digital Communications Manager
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

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