Trending in Australia with Andrew Coulson

Posted on December 11, 2014

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Editor’s Note: Make sure to read Andrew’s recent article, A crowdsourced guide to successful community engagement.

Trending: Flying Foxes, Innovation, and More

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by Andrew Coulson – Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest

What a rapid month November seems to have been. Alongside the hairy lip phenomenon of Movember, for which I avoided for fear of looking like a disheveled World War II paratrooper (and under strict instructions from my wife not too).

Australia experienced its hottest spring in 100 years. This impacts local governments that manage wetlands, parks and outdoor recreation opportunities. Local governments are forced to spend money to open outdoor swimming pools earlier in the fiscal year which may lead to a shortage of funds for promoting irrigation and bush fire management.

Resource management is increasingly become a hot topic. As summer approaches, austerity measures that have sweet Europe and the US will get more recognition as opportunities exist to increase customer service across all levels of government. This trend will be reflected in the stories that I highlight in this column.

And all this before we get to hit the beach on Christmas Day. Surfs up dude!

Meet the Prime Minister for Women


During the last election cycle, I noted a push to find female candidates. Previous efforts included the “Women in Local Government” initiative which was launched in South Australia in 2007. Also, Tony Abbott has taken the liberty to self-appoint himself ‘Prime Minster for Women’ but that self-appointment has bought about no change.

Here’s are a few stats that tell the story of women in the Australian local government workforce.

  •  45% of the local government workforce are women; only 20% of this group works in management.
  •  24% of senior managers are women
  •  4 out of 68 councils have a female Chief Executive Officer (2010).

Note: Figures taken from the LGA of SA website.

Australia has a history of women in local government beginning in 1914. A local government association in Victoria is celebrating this history by recognizing 100 years of women in local government. The celebration includes releasing a booklet called ‘The right to vote; the right to stand: the involvement of women in local government in Victoria’. Cr Helen Harris OAM developed the booklet which details the legislative history of the right of women to run for councils. The booklet will be of interest to many, particularly those with councils seeking to implement the principles of the Victorian Local Government Women’s Charter by profiling the legacy of women leaders in their communities.

Paintings Instead of Potholes

imagesToowoomba Council in Queensland has reignited an age-old debate around art and public spending. Despite recent cuts, the Council spent millions to promoting and cultivating local art. Normally residents would be up in arms about spending money on paintings instead of potholes but not when community pride is involved

In the Toowoomba Chronicle, ‘CEO Brian Pidgeon said the council wanted to ensure that there continued to be an enormous range of cultural opportunities and experiences for visitors and people within our region. Some great achievements in this area include our plans for the new city library and civic square and the annual Carnival of Flowers that goes from strength to strength”.

A Regional Arts and Community Centre costing $6 million is under construction with an expected completion date in 2015 and the opening of a new community venue, the Armitage Centre is in the works. These projects reflect the value of arts and culture along with a profitable theatre and popular festival and arts scene in the town.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No It’s a Flying Fox

One of the more “interesting” headlines in the past month involved a Flying Fox in New South Wales. Local councils in Australia, are familiar with daily reports of infestations of rats, mice, and cockroaches, but a flying fox is completely different.


The NSW Environment and Heritage Minister announced a new policy to minimise the impacts of flying-fox camps located near populated areas. The Flying Fox Policy encourages councils to prepare plans for sites where the flying fox may have a high level of impact on the community. It recognises that active management is needed where flying-fox camps are close to urban settlements, causing noise, odour and potentially putting health at risk.

Human health is the first priority in the plans. Councils are empowered to immediately resolve issues within their communities. Flying-foxes are protected under legislation. This new policy provides greater flexibility to land managers and allows them to take a longer-term approach to camp management by streamlining licensing.

The 2014 policy differs from previous policy in its focus on minimising the impacts of camps on people. A longer-term approach to camp management and streamlining of licensing; and its acknowledgement that camp dispersal may be a successful way of removing impacts on local communities. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage will provide ongoing support to land managers and communities, including a suite of online resources and advice for preparing camp management plans and local contacts, to assist councils.

Story sourced from the LGA of NSW weekly newsletter.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

download (1)The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) is forecasting more job cuts for local government. With this in mind, the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council is taking a radical approach by offering voluntary early retirement packages to all staff. The hope is to avoid job cuts before budgets tighten even further. The LGAQ’s Greg Hallam said he thought it was the first time the strategy had been used in local councils in Queensland and it shows how things are getting tighter across the local government sector.

Many local governments in Queensland have experienced cuts in projects funded by the state and federal government. These cuts are in addition to the increasing cost of doing business. These pressures are forcing councils to make incredibly difficult decisions.

Based on my experience in the United Kingdom, this type of approach often means short-term contracts have little chance of being renewed. Some projects might end early and be absorbed by the organization.

Could the answer lie in the next story?

It’s Innovation, Baby!

The rise of the “innovation culture” is another trend forming among Australian local governments. Along with innovation comes the permission to experiment, and perhaps, fail. Experimenting with innovation has become acceptable despite these difficult financial times.

GovCamp-logoGovHack, GovCamp, and the Awesome Foundation are groups that have gained momentum from the cities to the suburbs. My personal favourite is the internally based intranet option, Nucleus’s ‘Ideasbank’. (A product I have heard amazing stories about and hope to one day get a chance to use.)

The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has developed a plan to encourage innovation among government. The plan would give councils space to generate and test innovative ideas at a local level among local councils.  To fund the program, the LGAQ is asking for financial support of $1.25 million per annum for three years from the State Government, which would be matched by local councils

Innovation, according to the plan, is need because,‘Increasingly councils recognise the need to innovate and employ new technologies due to increasing community expectations, regulatory requirements from the State or Commonwealth as well as the need to find efficiency benefits and cost savings in the delivery of key community services’.

The LGAQ plan summary can be found here.

So there is hope yet. Innovation may save jobs and maybe even the flying fox?! Ideas on a postcard to….

That’s all folks. Stay warm America and enjoy your festive break because seriously a hot Christmas just doesn’t work. Australia over and out! Have a Merry Christmas one and all.

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