Destination 2036: Government turns a blind eye to local government reform

The only option I see is avoiding the obvious solutions

We are all pretty familiar with the story of Admiral Horatio Nelson famously turning a blind eye to something he didn't want to see. Blinded in one eye early in his Royal Navy career, in 1801 during the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson was ordered by a less aggressive Admiral giving him the discretion to withdraw. At the time, orders were conveyed by signal flags and Nelson famously lifted his telescope to his blind eye and said "I really do not see the signal" and his forces continued to attack.

When the NSW Government decided to bring together general managers and mayors from across the State they called it Destination 2036 because the talkfest was intended to construct a vision towards a better structured and more efficient local government in 25 years time. What a pity they focused their invitations on the two groups with the most to lose - general managers and mayors.

What a pity Minister Don Page and Premier Barry O’Farrell chose to not see the signal.

If you bother to read the Destination 2036 Outcomes Report you won't be surprised to see that the outcomes are carefully crafted proposals aimed at restructuring employment practices by herding "back office" (and some wag thinks that means the role of the GM) or wages staff or whatever into shared arrangements but leaving untouched the anachronistic and inefficient boundaries of the 152 local government areas in New South Wales.

depa has always been sceptical about the resistance to amalgamation and supportive of larger, well-financed councils that can better provide best practice conditions of employment and pay employees properly so they can attract and retain them in markets where skills are in short supply.

In 2003 (depaNews Bulletin 2, July 2003) we lamented the failure of the industry to respond to the encouragement provided by the Carr government and supported the approach by the then Minister Local Government Tony Kelly when he wrote to councils trying to hide and do nothing asking why they felt they shouldn't participate. We said:

"Councillors and general managers are up in arms at this pressure but do we really care? No one will be personally devastated by a reduction in the number of general manager positions and a reduction in councils across the state can only be a good thing."

There was no uprising amongst the membership and recently at an Institutes’ conference in Griffith I asked members to list the sort of things they found satisfying about their work. There were lots of suggestions about doing good for the community, flexibility and good conditions of work but no one leapt to their feet shouting out that the most rewarding part of working in local government was the richly fulfilling experience of working with councillors.

50 councils would mean 100 fewer general managers (that means we might then only have smart competent ones then) and 1000 fewer councillors. How can that not be a great start as we look at heading off into 2012?

The depa Committee of Management carried a number of resolutions at the November meeting after a serious look at and where local government was headed. The Committee unanimously carried the following resolutions:

On Destination 2036

Leaving aside that this is a cop-out that ignores the major issue, depa supports the Vision and responds that the important requirements of "developing the full potential of our people" must include a significant financial contribution to training, acknowledgement of the essential nature of paying market rates - particularly to professional employees with those skills currently the subject of a skills shortage, flexibility for work, family and life balance purposes, general flexibility in employment to allow access to varying hours dependent on lifestyle and family needs, etc.

depa has no real observations to make about the action plan apart from general support (because they really are parenthood proposals that are hard to resist or oppose) apart from those observations listed above which are more capable of being provided in larger and more financially-sustainable councils and to defend the Local Government (State) Award and the flexibility currently within it.

On the Local Government Amendment Bill

depa resolves to campaign for a more realistic timeframe to be determined on amalgamation protections based on the adoption by the amalgamated body of an organisational structure with details sufficient to identify skills and staff resources at all levels, rather than a timeframe starting with the birthday of an amalgamated body.

On the thorny question of amalgamations

While depa acknowledges some employees have emotional connections to smaller councils and communities, depa nevertheless supports the development of a commitment to amalgamating councils to provide continuing staff connections to those communities with access to:

  • rewarding skilled work,
  • a significant financial contribution to training to allow this to occur,
  • flexibility both in terms of hours and days which can provide an appropriate balance of work: life: family responsibilities,
  • well-paid positions for professional employees that are competitive and with those provided by the NSW Government and relevant private sector employers, and
  • conditions of employment generally consistent with improving the reputation of the industry and making local government a desirable employer of choice, and which provide financial and economic sustainability and employment security.

 

We stop Singleton sacrificing conditions for salaried staff to appease the wages staff

Since 1984 Singleton has provided three days concession leave to salaried staff. At the time, wages staff chose a pay increase instead.

Earlier this year pressure from the wages staff and complicity by a mischievous council management thought it made sense to try to browbeat the Consultative Committee into  agreeing that the salaried staff should forfeit some of that entitlement and, with the money saved, provide a couple of days concession leave to the wages staff. Our members and members of the LGEA opposed this course of action but, for reasons still not explained, other indoor staff representatives on the consultative committee supported it.

After it was resolved, the proverbial really hit the fan. The 1984 entitlement was a Council policy and is therefore a condition of employment for everyone employed subsequently to the policy being resolved. It was not open to anyone to remove it unilaterally, nor tamper with it and it was certainly not available to the Consultative Committee to make a decision to reduce that entitlement.

We filed a dispute, the LGEA was there to support the argument and as a result of proceedings in the Commission on 30 November, the Council has resolved to reinstate the three days concession leave to salaried staff and look at having a go again at this entitlement next year.

Over our dead bodies. And bah humbug to the Xmas scrooges in management.

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