Barbara Whitton of Western Bay of Plenty District Council reports from her Overseas Manager Exchange in Mount Gambier, South Australia - sponsored by JLT

Blog Post 1

My Taituarã exchange is with Nick Searle – General Manager City Infrastructure of the City of Mount Gambier Council. This small city is located in the Limestone Coast Region of South Australia and is almost exactly midway between Adelaide and Melbourne with a resident population of 27,000.

My first evening in town included attendance at a Council committee meeting where the mayor, councillors and senior staff welcomed me very warmly. The Council is currently gearing up for local body elections, which occur every four years.

In line with LG practice at home, the Community Plan guides the Council – The Futures Paper 2016 – 2020 - goals are to create vibrancy, promote identity and build a reputation as a place to live, work and invest, recognising the need for sustained economic growth and employment as well as recreational and educational opportunities.

My first impressions of the City of Mount Gambier are of a unique historical and geographical area – the beautiful Blue Lake, created by the volcanic eruption of Mount Gambier 5,000 years ago and the numerous caves and sinkholes that dot the landscape. The Council team are both passionate and committed to maintaining and enhancing the economic and social fabric of the area. While the Council team faces challenges that are familiar to me, I see a strong desire to learn from others to make business improvements e.g. the current implementation of One Customer Experience Team to improve customer service delivery. From a ratepayer/resident perspective: housing is affordable, there are a number of schooling options, health services are good, and recreational facilities for the community are of a high standard. Combine that with a favourable location and a clean and green environment and you have a desirable place to live.

Within my first working week, I have already connected with business services, customer, tourism and library staff, both here and further afield, including the Northern Grampions Shire, Burnside and Port Adelaide Enfield councils. It has been revealing to share the experiences of others in developing and implementing significant changes to their organisations. I have also been very fortunate to see so much of the countryside in a region where so much is on offer – stunning natural scenery, with vineyards on the doorstep and kangaroos and emus close enough to photograph - a first! Next stop – National Conference in Canberra.

Blog Post 2 Canberra – National Congress and a new Prime Minister!

We have experienced an exciting couple of days here in Canberra, with many of the discussions focusing on what’s been happening up on ‘the hill’. Today at lunchtime, we heard that Scott Morrison was elected leader of the Liberal Party and will become the 6th PM in just 11 years.

My other experiences of the capital city have included the discovery that Canberra is as cold as everyone tells you it will be with large cranes dominating the skyline. The surrounding landscape is extremely dry and there are monuments everywhere you turn. However, the most surprising discoveries were the different and quirky sculptures dotted about the CBD.

Highlights - The National Congress & Business Expo experience:

  • Hearing about the transformation plans for the City of Queanbeyan-Palerang Council – bringing together ambitions of placemaking, movement corridors and smart cities to digitally and physically connect people & green spaces.
  • Observing a ‘live’ task for the Australasian Management Challenge – positives and potential risks of AI technology applications to LG.
  • Listening to Michael Clarke (former Australian cricket captain) talk about his personal approach to crisis management, reputational damage and leadership – he clearly had lots of experience to draw on!
  • Hearing of Dr Barry Quirk’s (CEO Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea) approach to empathy, ethics and efficiency in response to a crisis – “the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy didn’t care about how much I knew, but how much I cared.”
  • Being present at the gala dinner to see the BOP Regional Council team take out the Australasian Management Challenge prize.