Alan Adcock of Whangarei District Council reports from his Overseas Manager Exchange to Queensland, Australia, sponsored by JLT

Blog Post 1: 

My welcome to Kingaroy (about 200km north-west of Brisbane), home of the South Burnett Regional Council has been a wonderfully warm one – not just because of the glorious blue skies and 31¡   heat, but through my exchange partner, CEO Mark Pitt, his wife Nicola and the friendly Council team

After a three hour drive north with Mark from Brisbane, we arrived just in time for the last stages of an all-day Council ‘portfolio’ meeting – an informal discussion involving each of the seven Elected Members and the department managers leading functions that reported through each formal Standing Committee. It was immediately apparent that the governance/management demarcation line can be somewhat blurred on both sides of the Tasman!

At the end of this session I was introduced to the Elected Members, who were very curious about my District and some of the key differences between our operating environments. They appeared somewhat jealous of the absence of the state government layer in NZ, but seemed less appreciative of our legislative planning frameworks and the transparency and accountability that our Revenue and Financing Policy provides…although the senior staff seemed to have a different perspective on this one!

South Burnett was formed in 2008 after the amalgamation of four shires, and is about half the size of Whangarei District in terms of revenue, with just one third of our population – but is three times our size in land area with lots of open spaces in a mixture of bush and pastoral land, with a collection of smallish settlements with Kingaroy at 10,000 the largest. However, staff numbers are similar to ours, but with different ratios per function as all services are delivered in-house i.e. they still use council staff and equipment for virtually all infrastructure maintenance and development.

 I’ve been really impressed by the ‘can-do’ attitude of the staff and the breadth of issues individuals have to manage due to lower staff ratios – a challenge I know smaller councils everywhere have to deal with.

My first few days have been non-stop, including visits to their state of the art wastewater facility, investigating their community engagement framework, discussion with the ICT team (we both use TechnologyOne), the opening of a new exhibition at a community-operated art gallery and an in-depth look at waste management and recycling initiatives – including a visit to a new automated Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) operated by the neighbouring Cherbourg Indigenous Council. I’ve also attended emergency management responses to bush fires that are rampant in Queensland at the moment – and which have the direct attention of the State Premier.

At this stage – the biggest difference is water – which I’ll talk more about in my next blog.