We’ve got an office full of letters from a succession of Ministers for Local Government, all committing to a review and a new approach to local government. We’ve got one from the current Minister, Don Page MP, as well.

Destination 2036 started badly. Not only did it make no sense if you were looking for serious reform to invite the groups with the most to lose (general managers and mayors) to come to Dubbo to talk about it. Neither did it make any sense to leave the unions off the list of those invited because, if you are going to do anything, the unions would need to be involved in the employment arrangements affected by change.

Clearly it was the usual group at the Division of Local Government who failed to invite us (continuing a long history of failing to acknowledge the role of the unions in the industry), so the Minister wasn’t responsible for this and his office was surprised that the DLG had dropped us off the list of “stakeholders”. In the end we got invited (and we could hear the rocket from the Minister’s office penetrating those responsible in the DLG from our office 9 km from the CBD) but we chose not to go because it seemed a waste of time and we would struggle to get the floor to say anything useful. As it turns out, our instinct was confirmed by the one union official who did attend.

A number of ideas flowed from Destination 2036 but none of them had anything to do with the fundamental problem - namely, that probably 40% of New South Wales councils are not financially sustainable, can’t afford to pay their staff properly, can’t provide flexible working conditions for family purposes, can’t provide good working conditions or market rates of pay, can’t afford to train people etc. What’s the point of a talkfest that doesn’t involve the difficult question of Council sizes and amalgamation?

But it gets worse.

Like all businesses, councils are obliged to supply appropriate tools to those who need them to get the job done effectively and efficiently. They would never get away with supplying substandard tools, nor would they contemplate it because it’s a false economy. Neither would they get away with poor quality plant generally.

Why is it then that we still see professional employees wandering around with telephones that would be more appropriately exhibited in the Powerhouse Museum?

Health, building and planning professionals should be provided with phones that allow them to be efficient and make the best value of the time out on the site or on-the-job. Yet smart phones which provide access to emails and Internet and a good quality camera are still not widespread amongst local government professionals.

How much easier would it be to carry a smart phone to a site instead of a dumb phone and a camera. How much more practical and more efficient it would be to be able to use a smart phone to tap into the Council’s file system or send and receive email information. On a site and something pops up unexpectedly, an android phone provides solutions and opportunities beyond the comprehension of the old blokes often in charge of buying them.

That’s why at many councils it is the Manager of Finance or some other bean-counter who makes judgements about the sort of phone that will be provided to professional staff who could be much more efficient in the field with a multimedia phone.

Some councils are already dealing with complaints from staff about the adequacy of their phones and how much more effective they would be moving into the 21st century with a phone capable of many other functions. Many councils aren’t. Some councils give smart phones at higher levels of the organisations because they recognise they want their better paid employees maximising their efficiency and effectiveness but don’t really think about how far down the organisation this improved efficiency should go.

It doesn’t make any sense. Professional employees who work in the field must be provided with phones that allow them to do the job properly. Not in terms of how it was done in 1970, but how could be done now, taking advantage of the benefits of the new technologies

This is an industrial issue in which we can be involved. We have conducted disputes in the past about the health and safety aspects of members working in remote locations where old analog phones, or cheap telecommunication networks, didn’t provide proper coverage. While these issues still continue in some areas (meaning it makes sense from a health and safety viewpoint the two employees to go out on particular jobs, rather than one) these health and safety issues are easily won.

We would love the opportunity to grapple with a Council where some accountant has decided, without really knowing the usefulness of a smart phone to professionals working in the field, that they should be provided with something less.

Any volunteers?

I’m going on holidays. It is one thing to encourage members to take a break when they need one but in a small organisation like ours, it’s hard to get away. Nevertheless, I’m out of here on Friday 21 September and not coming back until Monday 14 October. All fresh, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready.

The office will still be able to refer you to people to give you advice while I’m gone and we have arrangements with our lawyers just in case, but in the meantime, here are some suggestions for how to keep yourself out of trouble while I’m away:

  • Annual and long service leave requires the Council’s agreement and it makes sense to get that agreement before you spend your money on a trip to Europe, for example.
  • If you’re sick and can’t get to the office, ring your supervisor/manager as soon as you can in the morning and try to avoid looking like you’ve disappeared. It’s important to ring a person you report to.
  • Try to avoid being sick on Friday and Monday because, while you might be legitimately sick, it doesn’t look good.
  • If the Council wants to interview you about something that could become a disciplinary issue and they offer you the opportunity of taking a support person, take the delegate because it’s always good to have someone there as a witness and to metaphorically hold your hand.
  • If the Council claims you’ve done something wrong and they are grilling you about it, don’t admit to it if it isn’t true because you want the meeting to end, because next they will nail you.
  • If the Council finds you been making phone calls outside the Council area during working hours and they ask why, don’t tell them it’s because you loaned your phone to a friend, because that only makes life worse.
  • Try to avoid shouting at people in the office, even if you’re angry and they may well be the stupidest applicants you’ve ever met.
  • Try to avoid shouting at other employees and NEVER shout at your boss.
  • Everyone makes mistakes, if you do, fix it as soon as you can, apologising is always a good idea and never, ever try to justify it. It’s not a matter of interpretation, it’s a mistake.
  • Don’t backdate documents to fit within timeframes.
  • Try not to get booked for speeding or other motoring offences in the Council car and, when you get picked up by radar outside Goulburn on the first day you got the car and it‘s your birthday, with all your mates in the car, don’t tell the cop you were lucky he didn’t catch you 10 km earlier.
  • If you leaseback agreement says you report minor damage, do so.
  • Don’t pinch things from the Council - whether that be stationary or petrol outside your entitlements under the leaseback agreement.
  • Don’t, if the Council is asking legitimate questions about where you were or what you were doing, go home panicking because you’ve been sprung and then go on stress leave. It’s hard to come off stress leave and you still have to deal with the issue.
  • Don’t do any applicants or objectors any favours beyond your normal professional responsibilities because they can often be misinterpreted or misunderstood and you never know who’s watching.
  • If the ICAC turns up and asks questions, assume they already know the answers and tell them exactly what you know. You never know what they know and they wouldn’t be there looking for a fire if they didn’t have evidence of some smoke.
  • Be careful of the images and other things you receive, send and store on the Council’s computer. If you wouldn’t be prepared to let your mum see it, it shouldn’t be on the Council system.
  • Don’t call the HR flunky unprofessional, unhelpful, or an idiot - even if they are. Leave that to me when I get back.


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