Fairfield Council's GM and three Executive Directors
Fairfield Council's GM and three Executive Directors

Fairfield City Council has now adopted policy and procedures to complement the Code of Conduct and regulate contact between councillors and staff. Pressed by the three unions as a result of the fiasco suspending two innocent employees for 12 weeks, the Council reversed the decision they had taken when the Division of Local Government recommended that they develop policy and procedures in common with more than 80% of councils in their Better Councils Program.

No wonder no one takes the DLG seriously, when they can make a recommendation to introduce a policy and the Council can just refuse. Anyway, they didn’t refuse our request.

This process requires that both the GM (known as City Manager at Fairfield) and the council sign off on the policy and procedures.

Ordinarily, Fairfield is very good at consulting with the Consultative Committee whenever a policy is developed that has an effect on staff. But not on this occasion. The Council just refused point blank.

Off and Running

LGNSW has provided the three unions party to this State Award a log of 44 claims - some of them supportable, some of them where we could be open-minded and some of them which should only be rejected. For example, we will reject the claim to exempt increase costs arising from legislative changes (like FBT, for example) from the 10% maximum leaseback fee, the claim to allow a Council to determine the size and composition of their consultative committee, the claim to introduce a discretion to ignore any or all of the functions of the consultative committee, and the claim to consider superannuation increases in any pay increase - just like the NSW Government wants to do to its employees.

The USU has 80 claims and the LGEA has 21.

Usually we restrict ourselves to 8 or 10, but on this occasion we have 24. Here is a link to our Log of Claims, in the order of the clauses in the Award we would like to amend and where there are no appropriate clauses, three additional claims at the end.

As a summary, we have claimed:

  1. commitment by the parties to “ensure and facilitate” flexibility for work and family responsibilities

  2. 3.25% pay increases to continue

  3. oblige councils which can’t attract suitably qualified staff to incorporate a market component in the salary system to allow them to do so

  4. oblige councils to make available access to bonus payments or other opportunities for employees who have progressed to the maximum for their position.

  5. oblige councils to make deductions from pay as authorised by the employee

  6. oblige councils to pay for and provide leave for accreditation under the BPB for employees on extended leave - especially on maternity leave

  7. oblige councils to consult on leaseback changes “before any definite decision is made to introduce any changes”

  8. ensure the Award is complied with by providing Union Picnic Day for union members only and if a council wants to provide an over award entitlement to an additional day off, then it should be provided to all employees

 

Leaving aside the dismantling of community participation and certainty under the guise of planning reform, the NSW Government has already announced five separate investigations into local government and last week we received an invitation to participate in a “Council by Council audit of the existing infrastructure backlog in NSW”. That makes six. That’s a lot of activity and introspection.

It’s always nice to be invited to participate. No one wants to be the only person in the office left off an invitation list to a party or a wedding or whatever, but we are increasingly getting to the stage that it’s a relief to already have an appointment at the designated time and have an excuse not to attend. Having to wash our hair sometimes isn’t good enough.

Everyone has noticed that the Dubbo talkfest known as Destination 2036, with its Working Parties flailing around trying to create efficient structures while at the same time avoiding amalgamations, is now being stared down by the Independent Review Panel which is starting with a blank sheet of paper and looking at amalgamations - amongst other options.

And the Acts Review, including reviewing the employment provisions of the 1993 Act, overlaps with the Review of the Standard Contracts for GMs and Senior Staff.

Here is a quick summary of where we are with the five reviews:

The September local government elections changed the political complexion of many councils and in the Hunter has delivered up a bunch of deniers of climate science and developers. Partially the responsibility of the unattractiveness of NSW Labor, voters have clearly wanted change.

But voters do need to be careful about what they wish for. Winston Churchill famously observed that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” and looking at Newcastle and Wyong, it’s hard to argue.

 The new Lord Mayor of Newcastle is a property developer, Jeff McCloy. Councillor McCloy is a significant and accomplished developer in Newcastle and will now preside over a Council making judgements about his own applications. Employees of the Council would need to seek the general manager’s approval under section 353 of the Local Government Act for anything that conflicted with their Council responsibilities and we assume the Councillor McCloy will make his conflicts public and manage them well.

But unfortunately he comes with some embarrassing baggage. A denier of the science of climate change, on 6 March the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as contemplating leading a class action suit against Lake Macquarie City Council for “falling for this unjustified, worldwide idiocy about sea level rises”. That would be the projections done by the CSIRO based on econometric analysis of decades of climate data.

And, as a man prepared to put his money where his mouth is, he convened a public meeting of discredited critics of the science like mining company director and University of Adelaide geologist Professor Ian Plimer to preach to those who also don’t want to accept the science. A Professor of geology talking about a different area of science in which he has no expertise or credibility is like going to a dentist or a knee surgeon if you have a problem with your brain.

Anyway, no such class action has begun and Lake Macquarie is not the only Council dealing with new councillors who want to allow people to build on flood prone land and in areas where the science says there will be tidal inundation.

 

In the 1980s we had 800 members. We recruited our 1000th member in that decade and membership numbers went up, and then down after 1996 when members took the opportunity to flee the rigors of local government and have a go at private certification – you know, put everything in your partner’s name, approve everything (and not even have to go to the site!) and make some money.

The gradual but increasing proportion of planners since we started accepting planners as members a decade or so ago has meant that in October we came very, very close to reaching 1300 members.

So Louise emailed all of our delegates offering a $50 incentive to go out and recruit someone to be the 1300th member. Something a bit better than our standard bottle of wine for recruiting a couple of new members and considerably less than what seems to have been the practice in rewarding purchasing officers across the industry – no televisions or electronic devices delivered to your home from depa.

Within 40 minutes of the e-mail going out, our long-standing delegate at Randwick Council John Skene recruited Scott Williamson. Thanks John and welcome Scott. And to show what a good bloke John is, he donated the $50 to the Children’s Cancer Institute of Australia.  Nice one. John has worked in local government since 1976 and a member since 1991 after abandoning a career in HR – clearly his good values and caring attitude didn’t fit too well - working at Bankstown and Randwick since 2002.

Scott is a planner too, so there’s something about the diversity of our membership when an experienced health and building surveyor recruits a young planner.

In a way it’s a shame they are both blokes (because this is no longer a blokes’ organisation) but in the last membership report to the Committee of Management meeting two weeks ago, there were 23 men and 26 women new recruits. Our Committee has two women members of nine but for proper proportional representation we could do with one or two more when the elections are held next year.

There was still no recruitment of new members at Orange.

Conciliation before Justice Marks in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission on 28 September has removed from Canterbury the risk that simple, unobnoxious and inoffensive words like "petite" and "attractive" are a breach of the Council’s Code of Conduct. We always thought that was nonsense and that if this issue ever went to arbitration the Council would be a laughing stock and, with the assistance of the Commission, the Council has changed its view.

While this ludicrous issue arose from specific allegations against an individual member, the imprecision and the broad effects of the allegation meant that everyone at the Council was really at risk. Golly, we all let a little bit of ripe language slip sometimes, don't we?

Not much gee whiz, blimey, gosh, rats or other Victorian niceties these days.

While Canterbury agreed to remove this as an allegation they have not yet positively responded to our suggestions that we would support a general campaign at the Council for more sensitive and civil communication.

 

Our dispute at Blayney this year had all the negative characteristics of working in local government.

Unacceptable behaviour by a councillor; a failure by the Mayor to control a meeting; a general manager in a coma failing to remind the Mayor of his responsibility; a reluctance by the errant councillors (and the comatose general manager) to acknowledge and apologise for their mistakes; bans and then a strike by members in support of the Director as a fellow member; tampering with the minutes of the meeting to misrepresent what had happened at the meeting; the intervention of the Industrial Relations Commission; the intervention of the Division of Local Government also at our request; a new set of minutes to restore what had really happened rather than the fraudulent cover-up; a walkout by a general manager who had enough of being caught between the staff and the Council etc etc.

Yes please, I want to work at a place like that! Destination 2036 should have looked at Blayney when they were looking to create a viable, efficient industry which is an employer of choice over the next 25 years.

It might have been lame, it was invariably pathetic, it was a little bit shameful and it had to be squeezed out of them, but Gosford has provided a written apology to our member involved in the hapless investigation by the Council’s conga line of incompetents carried out earlier this year. We reported on it in August.

The letter from the Acting General Manager noted that he wanted to "extend an apology to you for a number of shortcomings associated with this matter" and begrudgingly "acknowledge that the investigation took place over an extended period of time." Well durr.

Why is it so hard for people who stuff something up to acknowledge it, apologise and get on with it?

Last week Local Government Super launched a refurbishment of 76 Berry Street North Sydney with a gas-powered tri-generation system that simultaneously generates electricity, heating and cooling. The tri-generation plant will cut the building's emissions by 85% and it is expected to be independent of the grid within 12 months.

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