Wouldn’t it be nice to look at our national political leadership and embrace them all as useful role models in life for their ethical and principled behaviour, good values and respect for the planet.

The recent revelations about Federal politicians and their travel and expenses have to be a new low.  There’s not much to admire in a group of people regarding travel expenses as an unregulated bucket of cash from which the most dubious of claims can be met, no questions asked, and if you’ve “misunderstood” the blatantly clear guidelines, instead of being charged with fraud, you can pay it back.

Attending weddings, flying from Perth to inspect your investment property in Cairns, extravagant bookshelves and, in the Prime Minister’s case, a string of social and sporting events all allowed inappropriate claims to be made and paid. Strenuous denials of having done anything wrong but then monies paid back as if that means that the claimant didn’t do the wrong thing in the first place. Absolution for past sins, as the PM might put it, but instead he would rather describe it as confusion or imprecision in the guidelines.

If you are going to pick up some aspect of a politician’s behaviour and use it at work, don’t use this example. If you fiddle your travel expenses or claim reimbursement of expenses that don’t come with a bull’s roar of being business-related, a Council won’t let you claim ignorance or confusion and they won’t accept that offering to pay it back, clears the slate.

From 2005 to 2010, 56 politicians found themselves having to pay back 136 expenses wrongly claimed.

They get away with it because we don’t expect much of them but your employer expects much more of you. That’s not really how it should be, when you think of it, because if it Federal Parliament is full of dodgy politicians fiddling their expenses, that is pretty dispiriting.

And even the PM, fresh from his successful election campaign about restoring trust in government was a major offender. He repaid $9397.42 while promoting his book Battlelines and has steadfastly denied wrongly claiming the expenses, even though he repaid them. Sprung by the ABC TV program The Drum in 2010 Mr Abbott denied any wrongdoing and any wrongful claiming of travel expenses but when the finance department found the expense claim was “incorrect”, the money was repaid.

“What, me worry?” won’t work if you get sprung doing this at work. Don’t do it, if the guidelines are unclear, get it cleared beforehand. 

Here we go again. The current Local Government State Award was made in 2010 to operate until 1 July 2014. This doesn’t prevent the parties to the Award, LGNSW and the three unions, from negotiating early in expectation that they can be agreement reached to operate from 1 July and discussions will begin in November.

The State Award was originally made late in 1991 to operate from 1992 and each time it has been replaced with a new Award, the new Award has been made by agreement. Sometimes there are a couple of issues that are hard or impossible to reach agreement on towards the end of negotiations where the assistance of the Industrial Relations Commission is requested – like last time when the employers would not agree to a leave reserved provision to allow us to pursue some form of an allowance for the implications of accreditation by the BPB, when implications became clear. On that occasion the Commission recommended that the leave reserved provision be inserted and this was agreed.

Clearly both the employers and the unions for the last two decades have accepted that the basic Award needs little more than a spring clean and tidy up, some clarification of any confusing wording, adjustments to clauses which have been the subject of disputes during the life of the Award and where better clarity would help and where particular industrial standards have been set by industrial tribunals which need to find their way into the Award.

The Committee of Management will be developing a log of claims for us to press in the negotiations leading up to 1 July 2014. We invite suggestions about how the Award should change. What are the areas of the Award that you think need to change?

Clearly we will be defending the good clauses from the 2010 Award (like the prohibition of term contracts and the protections on the leaseback cars, for example) but here is an opportunity to send us your ideas.

The Committee of Management next meets on 7 November. If you have any suggestions about what should be included in our log of claims, email them to  by Friday 1 November.

This is the heading from Investor Strategy on Monday breaking the news to the finance and superannuation industry that I had announced my resignation as a director on the LGS Board after 16 years. Over that time LGS has become Australia’s foremost sustainable superannuation fund, the winner of many accolades for responsible investment and the top ranked international fund in the Asset Owners Disclosure Project in 2010 for its responsible management of carbon risk and alternative investment.

16 years is quite enough and the Committee of Management is more than happy to see me back working full-time on union business. More time for Fairfield, and others.

As one of the three union shareholders, depa is able to nominate a director and the Committee of Management resolved to appoint Joanne Davison, a highly respected finance professional with an interest in doing more about sustainable and responsible investment, as my successor. Joanne will continue to advocate strongly for member interests on the Board and LGS’ sustainable values and initiatives.

Self-effacing as I am, I won’t browbeat you about the achievements over that period of time but I am proud to have written the report to the Board in 2000 that meant LGS was the first superannuation fund in Australia to resolve never to own tobacco shares. When asked why LGS had done it, the Chief Investment Officer of the time responded that it had been done “to appease a zealot on the Board.” Happy to be a zealot to make changes for the better.

That’s ancient history now but from it developed a broader approach to responsible investment and innumerable awards and acknowledgement, including:

  • SuperRatings Infinity Awards 2010 and 2011
  • Money Magazine Best Green Super Fund 2011 and 2012
  • NSW Government Green Globe Awards 2011 and in 2012 the Energy Award and Climate Change Leadership Award
  • Sustainable Super fund of the Year Award 2010 - Ethical Investor
  • Asset Owners Disclosure Project 2009 and 2010 ranked number one in Australia
  • Asset Owners Disclosure Project 2012 ranked Number 1 in the world of 300 pension/superannuation funds
  • Numerous property awards including a Property Council of Australia Award 2012 for the best sustainable development of an existing building in Sydney's Sussex Street
  • 40% reduction in energy use since 2009 across the entire property portfolio, a property in North Sydney is operating with Trigeneration and Leichardt's Market Place has reduced its energy by 50% since 2009

The full article from Investor Strategy News and the unedited announcement is here. While the news has been broadcast in other publications, no-one else was willing to publish the unedited version.


Local Government Amendment Bill 2011 creates chaos and madness

The NSW Government introduced the Local Government Amendment Bill 2011 into the Legislative Assembly on Thursday 13 October. Part of the Bill proposes "to convert the status of councils and county councils from their existing status as bodies politic of the State to bodies corporate" and it is this object which drew a dramatic response yesterday from the United Services Union. 

Apparently this part of the Bill has the support of the Local Government and Shires Association and the LGSA claims that the sole purpose of this part of the Bill was to ensure that councils will once again become eligible to apply for Federal Government funding. In a Media Release by the Minister for Local Government late yesterday, the Minister claimed that this was "a move requested by the Local Government and Shires Associations."

Apparently the changes to the status of councils as part of a defence against WorkChoices created fundamental problems in making grant applications. It would have been a good idea if the LGSA told us all beforehand but apparently the LGSA wasn’t aware of the Bill until Wednesday. We knew they wanted the change – we just didn’t know that it would happen without notice and the chance to deal with any confusion.

There is a good summary of the LGSA proposal, accepting that it would not have an effect on employees without amendment to the Federal Act, in their NSW Election Priorities document put before both sides prior to the State election.  Shame I didn’t get it until 7 o’clock last night.

It would also have been nice, given the vulnerability of local government employees in the bad old WorkChoices days, for the Minister to have consulted with, or at least advised, the three unions covering employees in the industry. The assurance could have been provided that, without accompanying changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 by the Federal Government, this would not mean the bundling of local government employees out of the NSW Industrial Relations system and into the Federal system - something that none of us, including the employers’ organisations - want.

But that didn't happen and now there is a significant problem to manage. The Bill also identified as one of its objects the reduction in the special period of protection for employees of amalgamated councils. This is something introduced by the previous Government and, while that protection is comforting for vulnerable employees, it has been an impediment to amalgamations. We should have also been told about that too.

You can believe this:

  1. Regardless of whether a council is a "body politic" or a "body corporate", an Order made by the Federal Government pursuant to the Fair Work Act 2009, means that local government employees in New South Wales remain protected by the NSW industrial relations system and the awards and enterprise agreements made in that system.
  2. The Local Government Amendment Bill 2011 does not change this and cannot change this.
  3. Local government employees remain protected by the Federal Order until a decision of the Federal Parliament (either with Labor retreating on the agreement to introduce this Order in 2009 or, perish the thought, the Opposition with sufficient support from the Independents) rescinds the Order.
  4. It is impossible to believe that the current Government would rescind it - but it is entirely possible that it would be rescinded after a change of government at the next Federal election in 2013.

The failure of the NSW Government to consult - and particularly that of a new Minister in whom we had relatively high expectations - is very disappointing. It's an easy process to talk to people and, particularly where imprecision and anxiety can lead to different interpretations, it was a bad mistake. Doubly so, given the intention to remove the amalgamation protections and also make some changes to pecuniary interest declarations. A phone call or email would have done.

It was predictable that at some stage there would be amendments to the Local Government Act that may have an effect upon employment. At Destination 2036 there was discussion about establishing bodies corporate which could, for example, employ adjoining councils’ wages staff (or even planning staff or anyone else, for that matter) and depending on how that occurred, and what style of organisation that became, there could be a vulnerability under the Federal System. That needs proper thought and consultation.

The Division of Local Government on 21 September sent a circular to councils headed "DESTINATION 2036 UPDATE" which, amongst other things, asked for comments on the "draft Vision contained in the Outcomes Report" by 4 November 2011. At the very least, it makes sense for the Government to have waited until the consultation period concluded before moving on this Bill.

We will keep you briefed.

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