Fit for the Future

Uh oh. I know what you’re thinking. “Did he amalgamate six councils or only five?” Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is a 17 seat majority government, with the most powerful electoral mandate in the world and recommendations from an independent panel that would blow your Council clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?

A rigid template of what constitutes fitness for the future is being hammered onto the 152 local government areas and no-one really knows how things will look when the dust settles. Probably not even the Government.

But everyone knows local government needs to be reformed, and the reform process will involve changes in boundaries, but no one wants anything to happen to their own Council. NIMBYism is both natural and understandable but it won’t get in the way of a rampant Government zealous about reform. How rampant, or reforming, or even how effective any changes might be remains to be seen but Premier Baird took the Fit for the Future strategy and process to the election and had a resounding win. An easy opponent yes, but a resounding win nevertheless.

30 June is the deadline for councils to be able to establish that they are financially sustainable for the future and should be left alone.

Councillors with far more important things to do than worry about long-term financial sustainability are justifiably concerned. Busy pursuing their own individual self-interest; looking after their mates or the local Racing Club; ignoring their own council’s cleanup orders under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act; having the ICAC looking over their shoulders; dabbling in the general manager’s responsibilities; or persecuting staff; or being in a minority and trying to ignore majority resolutions of councils; or who are the subject of performance improvement orders from the Minister for Local Government; and a variety of other distractions, who is looking after their ratepayers and citizens?

The council’s employees are, that’s who.

Local politicians are all well and good. As citizens we want immediate access to our political representatives even though we are invariably left empty-handed and disappointed. More importantly we want good service and services and it’s the employees who provide that.

It’s the staff who provide the services; the public face of local government; the consultative mechanisms on planning, amenity and quality of life; pick up the recyclables and waste; maintain the libraries and provide services in literacy, literature and research and education; maintain and provide childcare; look after the roads; protect and enforce food, public health and environmental standards; protect land use, waterways and disappearing species; remind us of the joys of the arts; ensure safe construction and building standards (unless the private sector gets in the way) and happily do so while the elected officials are usually doing something else entirely - sometimes just getting in the way of the Council’s efficiency by sacking general managers, for unspecified reasons, often good and high performing employees, but not kowtowing sufficiently to new regimes, and with 39 weeks’ pay to see them on their way from councils whose finances can be parlous, marginal or propped up by debt.

There are good councillors, smart, interesting and rewarding people with values they live by and a commitment to working in local government but employees understand that the reputation of the industry reflects the councillors who are the lowest common denominator.

The Government will do what it will do. The frenzy of interest in joint organisations will spare all those elected representatives to keep doing whatever it is that drives them and put at risk employment conditions of local government workers unless the joint organisations employ them under the State Award. The Government MUST deny the zealots and the sabre rattlers seduced by the opportunity to reduce standards and head towards Federal industrial legislation.

Whether councils are found to be fit or some other appropriate F word, employees need to have protections in place to allow any process to be introduced fairly as part of building a view to a sustainable and high performance future.

Do you feel lucky?

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