The Federal Government will be doing a whole range of things that will affect us. One of those is taking steps to challenge the equal representational model on superannuation boards (that’s where, like Local Government Super, there are equal numbers from the employee and the employer side) and to require that at least a third of directors be “independent” which, in the language of the Coalition Government really means mates of theirs.

Superannuation funds operate under the Superannuation Industry Supervision Act, and that legislation obliges directors, whether they be employer or employee representatives to act independently.

This has nothing to do with the competence of the equal representational model, or trustees representing employees, but everything to do with the historic resentment, antagonism and hostility by the Coalition to the introduction of compulsory superannuation, the proliferation and success of industry superannuation funds and all that money being managed by people other than their Tory mates in the banks and insurance companies.

If this story interest you, check out Robbo’s Pearls.

In 2012 LGS was rated AAA and the leading fund internationally with its investment strategies in anticipation of a low carbon future pressure for the reduction of emissions and proper pricing mechanisms on both emissions and carbon assets like coal.

The 2013 Asset Owners Disclosure Project index has just been released in New York. In its second year internationally it includes a significant number of huge international pension and superannuation funds, some of which believe themselves to be at the forefront of low-carbon investing. Investment strategies are all about future risks, the science is in, everyone acknowledges that emissions have to be reduced and that companies need to be valued properly based on their emissions and how they price carbon assets like coal, for example, which may never, ever be dug up. 

The AODP ranked the world’s 1000 largest asset owners as part of The Climate Institute report. Here is how it was reported today in InvestorDaily.

LGS remains AAA rated and ranked number one in Australia but was pipped for the top-rated fund in the world by fund in the UK with a special focus on the environment.

Superannuation is full of pretenders and poseurs about what funds are doing on sustainable investment and the risks of carbon, but LGS has the evidence that it is number one in Australia.

We name the worst councils

It’s one of depa’s core values that people should get what they deserve.

Nothing exemplifies this more than our annual HR Awards. Described last year as allowing members and others to screen prospective employers and intended to identify bullying, boofheadedness, infamy, incompetence, duplicity, opacity, hypocrisy and general nastiness, we should really stop beating around the bush and say what we mean.

Like the boring bit in the Academy Awards when someone has to read out how the voting and the auditing of the voting process operates, everything needs good governance and we need to be as transparent as anyone else. Sometimes, more so.

Our diversified Panel judges folly and infamy across the industry without fear or favour, in a reasoned, disciplined, rational, debated and almost scientific way.

Bankstown won it in 2009 and, very slow to learn, also won it in 2010. They have made some changes (including one big one) and have learned from the experience. Greater (sic) Taree won it in 2011 but hasn’t been a contender since even though too many good employees voted with their feet and went elsewhere. Lismore won in 2012 and the GM at Lismore bit the bullet, immediately fixed the then current dispute (and was properly recognised by us for doing so in the January depanews) and then made structural changes in HR and resolved the problem. Well done and good riddance, respectively.

There are some councils knocking on the door of nomination who don’t get nominated in the 2013 awards but have good prospects for the future. Warringah doesn’t understand its Award obligations on how the consultative committee operates and thinks the consultative committee operates just like other Council committees - which, of course, it doesn’t. Council committees are established and get their authority by delegation from the Council under the Local Government Act and the Consultative Committee doesn’t. The Consultative Committee is established under the Local Government State Award and gets its authority from the Award, and the Industrial Relations Act under which the Award is made. So, it’s not appropriate to throw a union delegate out of the consultative committee if an issue is to be debated affecting that employee. We’ll fix that next year.

And Eurobodalla really needs to have someone read the Award and understand it. The GM and the HR Manager for a start. Next year, perhaps.

2013 has thrown up a whole range of new contenders. Thrown up, both metaphorically and literally and a review of depaNews over the year presents our worthy candidates in chronological order.

Ooooooh, the developers aren’t happy now, are they.

In August 2012 depaNews we criticised the possibilities illustrated on page 57 of the Green Paper for letting developers file applications that fell well, well outside the boundaries of any planning instrument. Nearly everyone else in the world was doing similarly.

In June 2013 (effectively our White Paper submission) we argued that certainty for developers meant uncertainty for everyone else, as protection and checks and balances are removed. The only people who weren’t saying that were the developers and their lobby groups - clearly because they preferred to sit quietly and smugly for fear of revealing their excitement.

The risks of code assessment and the fundamentally hazardous planning system that the inappropriately named Brad Hazzard (and we were not fooled by the two zeds) was pressing was met with overwhelming community opposition - as well as from Local Government NSW and planners in the industry who understand that certainty for developers means trouble for everyone else.

2012 depa HR awards

We name the worst councils

These are prestigious awards. Launched in 2009 with the expectation that it would be a prestigious recognition of management excellence, depa’s HR Awards have highlighted some of the worst excesses of local government HR, are used by members and others to screen prospective employers, are highly anticipated and well-received by the industry (but not sometimes by the recipients) and they are intended to identify bullying, boofheadedness, infamy, incompetence, duplicity, opacity, hypocrisy and general nastiness.

Last year it was hard to separate the contenders and this year has seen some clumsy activity by HR, Directors of Corporate Services and General Managers to get their councils nominated.

Here are the contenders:

Richmond Valley

Richmond Valley ‘s new General Manager John Walker thought it made sense to beat his manly chest on ABC local radio shortly after his appointment and identify the nine day fortnight as something that he was going to remove. ABC News reported it like this:

The Richmond Valley Council’s new general manager says a dispute with staff is inevitable as it pushes ahead with plans to make them work an extra day a month. John Walker says at the moment Council workers have every Friday off. He says that's not efficient and staff need to be more available to the public and more flexible with their working hours.

“This to me is just something that needs reviewing,” Mister Walker said.

“It’s been in practice here for12 years at Richmond Valley and I think the world has changed. All I’m asking people to do is be flexible, not to be rigid. The unions are involved, the Council staff don’t want to change and so we’ll end up with the dispute.”

This declaration of war preceded the first meeting with the unions and, in the end, the Council sheepishly conceded that existing entitlements for employees couldn’t be touched. Anyone who knew anything could have told him that it always makes good sense to check how employees have entitlements and how long they have had them because that normally gives an indication of whether they can be snatched back. There is less embarrassment if you do this before you announce to the world that you are going to start stripping back conditions of employment and then find that you can’t.

And if you want to avoid disputes with the unions in the industry, you should avoid saying things like “the unions are involved, the Council staff don’t want to change and so we’ll end up with a dispute.”

That was a prediction that proved to be self-fulfilling because, tail between their legs, the Council has agreed not to touch the conditions of existing staff and those with a nine day fortnight, and even those with four day weeks, will continue to work them.

There must be something in the water up there because there has been a bit of posturing by other General Managers in the Far North Coast about removing these sorts of entitlements and, we reliably predict, they will have about the same degree of success as Mr Walker - not the first General Manager to find that he will would have handled the matter better had he taken Dirty Harry’s advice - a man's got to know his limitations.

Gosford City

While Richmond Valley is new to the nominations, Gosford is a regular nominee. Last year we said:

“Historically a pernicious, unimaginative, stonewalling and unpleasant employer which over the years has been so difficult we even had to resort to the IRC managing a process that resulted in an agreement between us that they would respond to our correspondence!”

Gosford was responsible for unleashing their conga line of incompetents in an investigation into one of our members. Individually and collectively, everyone from the Acting General Manager through the Director Corporate Services (goodbye and good riddance Terry, enjoy your retirement) a number of scary women from HR and an investigator who couldn’t find his own buttocks with two hands, contributed mightily to a slow and cumbersome investigation that, provided flawed conclusions and, after we filed a dispute with the IRC, resulted in a written apology to our member.

So concerned were our members at Gosford that they put a ban on any investigation conducted by these hapless folk until such time as the Council's policy documents governing the proper conduct of an investigation were changed. The ban has been in place now for 464 days and instead of actually collectively extracting their digits from the conga line to get something done about it, and get the ban lifted, it was apparently not a priority - despite their advice to the IRC that they would do this.

Still, who cares if the Council is happy to allow the ban to continue and have our members refuse to cooperate with any investigations carried out by this bunch of dopes. The ban meant the one of our members leaving the Council refused to be questioned. And the Council had no answer.

Their failure to do something to remove the ban and redraft policy makes Gosford a worthy nominee in 2012, but they also:

  • Announced that they were going to can the performance bonus arrangement that has operated by agreement for more than a decade because it was a managerial prerogative, started some discussions about buying out the performance bonus arrangements but couldn’t do calculations sufficiently accurate to continue the discussions. They conveniently forgot about the signed commitments by the unions and the Council at the time that this is how the salary system would operate. Sometimes signed commitments override management discretion. Anyway, “management prerogative” is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
  • Announced that GM Peter Wilson was retiring and, while he advised staff it was “with very mixed emotions” that he announced his retirement, emotions weren’t mixed amongst employees and the unions. Goodbye Peter.
  • Tried to frustrate moves by a member to job-share as a result of her family situation and, when we forced them to agree to it, dawdled on the implementation of the change for reasons they could only have been punitive to the employee concerned.
  • This process brought to our attention for the first time the Council’s practice of having job -share employees sign an “agreement” that they will cover any leave of their fellow job-sharer. That would work well, wouldn’t it? You’re job sharing because of the kids and you get 15 minutes notice that your co-worker won’t be at work and they made you agree to be there. We made them change these documents and also highlighted the stupidity of the relevant Manager recommending that the member sign anyway and worry about it later. Not even one of the conga line, just a boofhead.

Nambucca Shire

Okay, we all recognise that the GM’s decision to try to do without a Director of Corporate Services and do the job himself didn’t work. Being able to count and comply with deadlines is important sometimes. But having lumbered the Council with a two director structure and deciding that it made sense to return the position of Director of Corporate Services, what other directorate would disappear?

Clearly if you’ve got one good director in the form of the Director of Environment Services Greg Meyers, why not combine corporate services and environmental services and let Greg run the lot?

The clumsiness of this exercise was exacerbated by a consultant’s report boasting that the two director structure was working well in other councils and then neither the GM, nor LGSA's Management Solutions as the author of the document, were prepared to tell us what those councils were. We thought then, and we continue to think, that someone made this up.

(As an aside, we graciously decided not to humiliate the LGSA in any industrial proceedings where they would be acting for the Council and arguing that we ought not have access to a consultant’s report that their own business unit prepared. We forfeited the potential satisfaction available from having the IRC recommend that the LGSA’s industrial people prize information from the LGSA’s own Management Solutions in the interests of a good continuing relationship.)

All of this was done as a cost savings measure but someone’s calculations didn’t add up and only a few weeks after the new structure was announced, the GM decided they had to get rid of a few more people and change the structure again. Poor planning and hopeless management of staff and their aspirations.

We have a soft spot for HR at Nambucca because it has been historically benign and charming, but the GM needed a kick in the tail.

Lismore City

Lismore always gets nominated and last year we said:

For almost invariably getting it wrong at every opportunity, for never, ever understanding how to interpret the Award and for showing scant regard for the market and not doing things they said they would do - but let down by the departure of the old general manager and a chance of recovery.”

Well, what a year. We are not suggesting that anyone is stupid but dealing with Lismore brings a new dimension to impenetrable, obscurantist and duplicitous. But there was some spectacular delight as well, like the email from their HR Manager objecting to the clarity and transparency of our correspondence and saying:

“Mr Robertson

Your email and correspondence associated with this matter is considered highly offensive and prejudicial to the due process and standards expected of the NSW IRC conciliation and arbitration process.

As such, it is being referred to the Division of Local Government and the Ombudsman as an unprofessional conduct complaint in relation to a Union Official”

Where do you start with a stupid email like this? Probably by observing that the conduct of union officials does not fall within the province of either the Division of Local Government, or the NSW Ombudsman - confirming one of our observations in 2011 that they almost invariably get it wrong at every opportunity. And try as we might, we just can’t get a response about how those complaints went. We haven’t heard from the DLG, nor the Ombudsman, so assume that if a complaint was really made, people in those offices assumed it was a prank or a hoax by some looney. Maybe those dopey 2DAY funsters.

But our clear and unequivocal correspondence contrasts entirely with the way Lismore chooses to write letters of offer. Or anything else for that matter.

Our dispute last year about their failure to provide a condition of employment when they appointed two team leaders, continued into 2012. In being offered employment to new positions of Coordinator (previous Coordinator positions were merged and somewhat bizarrely came out at a lower grade than the positions which were being combined) the members were going to get “a pay system, specific to the coordinator level which will allow for further salary progression based on performance outcomes. This will be in place by February 2010. Criteria for salary progression will be negotiated within three months of appointment and will relate to satisfactory achievement of performance plans.”

But the Council failed to have a system in place by February 2010 and therefore also failed to negotiate the criteria for salary progression. And it was only when we filed a dispute in 2011, almost 2 years after this promise was made and it was still not provided, that the matter was resolved. Despite the Council’s abject failures to do what they had undertaken, the obscurantists at Lismore were going to bring four witnesses down for the arbitration - all of whom would have allowed this question to be asked in cross examination:

“Was the promise to introduce the pay system specific to Coordinators, the progression based on performance and the negotiation of criteria for this to occur by February 2010, lies when you wrote the letter, or did they subsequently become lies when you were too hopeless to do it by the time you said you would do it?”

It was all about how the Council wanted to “interpret” their own letter (something we discovered later was a special corporate approach to letters of offer) and it was clear that the Council loved to argue that what looked abundantly clear on the page really meant something entirely different.

Sometimes reason prevails and clearly no one at the Council is stupid - although the threat to make a complaint to the DLG and the Ombudsman must go very, very close – and the members had really had enough, and we settled for payments as if they had done what they said they would.

Being hopeless about delivering on what you’ve undertaken to provide at the Co-ordinator level is one thing but this year we were in dispute about doing exactly the same thing for a Manager. This dispute showed that the Council didn’t understand that Award increases carry the force of law and that increases directed to be paid by the superannuation board are the employer’s responsibility. The Council claimed they could withhold any or all of an Award increase and pay the employer’s superannuation contribution out of the employee’s salary component to keep their costs under their maximum TRP. Now, that is stupid.

Only stupid people employ anyone on a TRP when the Council can’t prevent Award increases or progression of control the costs of superannuation. The 2009 superannuation dispute killed off the concept of TRPs.

But it got worse. Having absorbed part of an Award increase and stolen more money from the employee’s salary component for superannuation, again it became a matter of the Council asserting how to “interpret” their own letter. Too long and boring a story really but seriously put by the Council that a prospective employee should ask the right questions about what a letter of offer means - even here when there had been multiple conversations with HR about the net benefits of making the move and now, still asserted in the same meeting this week where it was conceded that the letter of offer could have been clearer.

But the Council’s purpose was to hide the fact that employment was being offered at the top of the salary system rate of pay and that as far as the Council was concerned, the new employee would never, ever get any salary progression. Charming.

And all in the context of this employee weighing up whether to make the move to Lismore from a rewarding job elsewhere and, being aware of the precedents of the 2009 superannuation dispute, having specific conversations and seeking assurances that the TRP would not be used in this way. This is less than honest and as part of the resolution of this dispute (listed back in the Commission in the second week of January) we will make Lismore change their letters of offer to identify grades and progression options in the salary system so that a prospective employee can make an educated choice. No more confusing letters to trick prospective employees.

All this from a Council that has adopted values enforcing the showing of mutual respect, a sense of belonging for everyone, considering their actions and reactions to others, trusting others and encouraging honesty, and being accountable for what they do! Shame, hypocrites. Maybe it's all in the interpretation.

And wouldn’t you know it, Lismore has also breached the 10% maximum increase in leaseback fees under the Award by convincing the Consultative Committee that the 10% limit doesn’t apply when you change over to a new car - even if it is identical to your previous car. Here they are wrong again and something else to fix next year.

Last year we hoped for changes but new GM Gary Murphy has only disappointed.

And the winner is …

How could it be anyone else? Obscure letters of offer, poisoning relationships by neglect and dawdling with the Coordinator and Manager level, failing to deliver on what was promised in letters of offer, drafting those letters of offer with the intention that they be some bizarre puzzle to be disentangled and examined by a prospective employee rather than providing information which is clear and unequivocal, unable to respond to any deadline, prepared to spend money defending breaches of the Awards, damaging the trust and confidence in the relationship with employees at a critical managerial and supervisory level and all the time hypocritically boasting about mutual respect and being accountable for all that they do.

This year we will be providing a proper trophy and presenting it to Lismore. We’ll let you know how that goes as well.

That’s it for us to 2012

We will be closing the office for the year tomorrow afternoon. Wendy will be back on Wednesday 2 January and I’ll be back on 7 January.

Our best wishes to you all can be found in Robbo’s Pearls.



Don’t be alarmed that this is a story about the vulnerability of general managers because reckless and unfair decision-making affects everyone - and we have members who are general managers as well. And even more members who would like to be.

Eight weeks after a new Council was elected at Camden, the incoming Mayor, Councillor Lara Symkowiak use the backing of her four other Liberal councillors to terminate the contract of the respected general manager Greg Wright. Clause 10.3.5 of the general managers and senior staff Standard Contract allows termination without explanation by giving 38 weeks written notice or 38 weeks pay.

This is the ludicrous front-page of the Daily Telegraph on 4 December. We have removed the picture of Ricky Ponting’s farewell and replaced it with an image of the Evil Empire’s Rupert Murdoch, trying to look “humbled” before the Leveson Inquiry into the irresponsible behaviour of his own newspapers, and in particular, the practice at News Ltd of hacking into private phones. Nice.

Prepared under the byline of the Telegraph’s State Political Editor (and not the respected local government writer), the article, boasted of as an “Exclusive”, was not exclusive it all because it was simply nothing more than the distorted publication of old news available to everyone.

The NSW Government has a policy of rejecting the concept of compulsory amalgamation - consistent with a succession of previous Governments over the decades hoping that common sense would encourage the voluntary building of bigger, better, more financially sustainable councils to provide improved services and better pay and conditions for employees. But common sense is a decidedly uncommon faculty sometimes, and this hasn’t worked effectively. Too much for the politicians to lose.

Uh oh, “clowns” might seem a bit harsh but how else do you describe advice in the BPBulletin of 23 November that they are proposing to amend regulations affecting accredited Council employees to let them do things which would now breach a Council’s Code of Conduct. The BPB proposes to:

Introduce an exemption the Council accredited certifiers if they are related to a person involved in the design or construction of an aspect of development. Council accredited certifiers will be able to issue a Part 4A or complying development certificate if related to a person involved in the design or construction of an aspect of development, if the certificate is issued on behalf of the Council, to the Council or to a council employee and the capital investment value of the development does not exceed $5 million.

So far with the accrediting of Council employees, so good. We remain concerned about the potential problems of an employee having a responsibility to their employer and at the same time a responsibility to an accrediting organisation. To our mind, although we could never convinced to Government of this, the principal responsibility of an employee is to their employer - something they seem very capable of understanding in employment generally but not when it comes to setting up parallel authority for a council employee with the BPB.

But this proposal would allow employees to do work as a council employee on applications involving  family members in a way which would be prohibited by the Model Code of Conduct adopted by all councils in the State.

Apparently no Obeids were involved in the drafting of this but this clash between the ethics of working in local government and the “ethics” of the BPB is a bit embarrassing and should proceed no further.

Not by a ratings agency like Standard and Poor’s (which was so discredited in the Global Financial Crisis) but by an International Report by the authoritative and respected Asset Owners Disclosure Project.

And not just one of the two funds Triple-A rated out of the 300 largest institutional investors in the world, but Local Government Super was rated number 1.

Number 1, numero uno. Check out how the Sydney Morning Herald reported it on 12.12.12.

But first, some history in which depa has had a critical role. LGS separated from State Super and First State Super in July 1997 and in 1998, as a result of a report I wrote as a Director and submitted to the Board, LGS resolved to never own tobacco again. There had been history of professional health workers in State Super agitating for State Super to not own tobacco shares because of the fundamental conflict between the damage done by tobacco and the work done by health professionals and the undesirability of their superannuation fund investing in such a murderous industry - where are even using the product in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation can kill you and those innocents passively smoking around you.

The only option I see is avoiding the obvious solutions

We are all pretty familiar with the story of Admiral Horatio Nelson famously turning a blind eye to something he didn't want to see. Blinded in one eye early in his Royal Navy career, in 1801 during the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson was ordered by a less aggressive Admiral giving him the discretion to withdraw. At the time, orders were conveyed by signal flags and Nelson famously lifted his telescope to his blind eye and said "I really do not see the signal" and his forces continued to attack.

When the NSW Government decided to bring together general managers and mayors from across the State they called it Destination 2036 because the talkfest was intended to construct a vision towards a better structured and more efficient local government in 25 years time. What a pity they focused their invitations on the two groups with the most to lose - general managers and mayors.

What a pity Minister Don Page and Premier Barry O’Farrell chose to not see the signal.

If you bother to read the Destination 2036 Outcomes Report you won't be surprised to see that the outcomes are carefully crafted proposals aimed at restructuring employment practices by herding "back office" (and some wag thinks that means the role of the GM) or wages staff or whatever into shared arrangements but leaving untouched the anachronistic and inefficient boundaries of the 152 local government areas in New South Wales.

depa has always been sceptical about the resistance to amalgamation and supportive of larger, well-financed councils that can better provide best practice conditions of employment and pay employees properly so they can attract and retain them in markets where skills are in short supply.

Too much for the International Judge

It would be easy if human resources managers understood that their role wasn't just bludgeoning the workforce. Imagine if they thought it made sense to support and encourage the development of their employees and not just hammering them into templates, cutting costs and cutting opportunities.

It would also be easy if we could separate out those who are more incompetent than they are malicious. Are they bad and nasty people or just stupid?

And hopeless HR doesn't just depend upon HR managers. Many HR managers (oh, all right then) some HR managers really do try to do the right thing but don't have much of an option if the Director Corporate Services or the General Manager is a nasty piece of work, or a dope, or a sadist intent on wreaking havoc and misery and driving employees somewhere else.

So, no wonder our acclaimed International Judging Panel (and particularly the international member) found it very, very hard to separate some serious contenders this year.

Nominated this year were....


The issue that led to the clumsy investigation by the Council of our delegate and Manager Jim Boyce last year was a generous gift by members to Jim. It was a generous acknowledgement for his time and effort in having all of our positions upgraded in a lengthy exercise using the 00Soft job evaluation system and resulting in significant pay increases to all members. Basically when the positions were evaluated after 1992 they were all placed on one level below where they should be in the Award.

Some people at the Council found it unbelievable that employees, happy with the results of Jim’s work and enthusiastic to recognise it, would reward him with a generous cash gift. No one ever rewarded them!

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