Strategic Asset Management Planning – New Zealand Study Tour (Part 2)

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Strategic Asset Management Planning – New Zealand Study Tour (Part 2)

The LG Professionals NSW International Exchange Programme is an excellent professional development opportunity available to members. This blog is part one of my experience (part two is available here).

Risky business (Days 3–5)

The 2014 New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM) annual summit Risky Business was designed to inspire new ways of thinking about how best to manage risk.

Top three ideas from the summit speakers

1. Customer Service – In local government, every single one of our customers comes through our door because they have to, not because they want to. So how can we make a difference? 

This is the community engagement challenge: Customers don't thank governments for providing essential services. The services that local government provides are so day-to-day and under the radar that they aren't valued. For example, some are happy to pay $1,000m3 for bottled water, and yet are highly critical of water rates. They flush their toilet every morning and don't acknowledge their council for providing that service. 

In order to create and maintain positive communication with its customers, the community, councils' challenge is to make sure that services are relevant. Service level decisions must be made locally and must be representative of the local community's choices.

2. Benchmarking – i.e. standards set by someone other than you or your community so that you can be 'shamed'. 

For nearly 30 years in New Zealand the thrust of local government legislative reform has been toward increasing accountability to communities through disclosure and consultation. The legislative changes over that time have moved to and from community engagement vs efficient decision making, with local government now required to produce multiple reports that are sometimes more and sometimes less successful at providing meaningful information to local communities. Local government must balance community expectations for engagement with government expectations for financial restraint, whilst complying with increasingly prescriptive legislative requirements for reporting.

The industry needs a voice to communicate the amazing work that it does, and to ensure that increasing ministerial oversight doesn't interfere with local community priorities. NSW Local Government needs to continue to advocate against prescriptive community consultation and reporting requirements such as those that are in place in New Zealand.

3. Community Engagement – Leaders build and maintain relationships. They take the time to understand people. They know what's important to them and what they want. You need to support that to influence change. The major risk of not engaging is that you will miss an opportunity to add real value.

Tararua Country – the good life (days 6–10)

The Tararua District Council has a population of 18,000 and covers 424,000 hectares. It is one of the larger councils in New Zealand and includes one of the largest road networks. It has five commercial centres, namely Pahiatua, Eketahuna, Norsewood, Woodville and Dannevirke, and produces a number of agricultural products, in particular wool, lamb, beef and dairy.

New Zealand legislation is years ahead of NSW in regards to the development of integrated planning and reporting requirements, and Tararua were very generous in showing me how they have developed levels of service and performance measures, and reported on outcomes. They took me on a full tour of council operations, and a tiki tour of the Tararua District.

Key learnings from Tararua District Council

  1. The Value of Planning – In order to be effective you must have formulated values, objectives, strategies and actions. This is the process that will affect the destiny of your organisation.
  2. Community Engagement – In order to be relevant, a council must find out what people need. Use core community leaders, who may not necessarily be politicians, to help you engage meaningfully.
  3. The Most Valuable Asset – In order to be innovative and successful, a council must have employees who are great at their jobs, and a Chief Executive who trusts them to do their jobs without interference.

Top three Tararua must dos

  1. Visit the White Kiwi – At Pukaha, Mount Bruce, and take the lookout walk while you're there.
  2. Have a Toastie at the Bridge Café – The Bridge Café is a quirky, country style café in Ballance.
  3. Tramping at the base of the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges – Go for a walk and enjoy the New Zealand wilderness.


I have very much appreciated the opportunity to participate in this exchange. As New Zealand had undertaken a significant number of local government reforms well before Australia, its subsequent experience in these endeavours is instructive for Local Government in NSW. Through the exchange I have gained a new insight into a number of these areas and look forward to pursuing my research.


SOLGM – New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers: Sarah Partridge, Senior Advisor, Recruitment and Retention; Karen Thomas, Chief Executive; Barbara McKerrow, President; Matthew Riddle, JLT CEO.

Tararua District Council: Kathy Dever-Tod, Manager Assets Group; Sandy King; Blair King, Chief Executive; Peter Wimsett, Manager Strategy & District Development; Katrina Kerr, Personal Assistant to Mayor and Chief Executive; Joan Spencer, Committee Secretary; Daniel Chick, Database Administrator; Malcolm Thomas, Thomas Consulting; Heather Taylor, District Librarian; Barbara Thacker, IT Business Analyst; Bob Dunn, Regulatory Services Manager; Michelle Thompson, Publications.

Local Government Professionals Australia NSW: Roger Bailey, International Exchange Committee; Beki Boulet, International Exchange Committee; Simone Schwarz, International Exchange Committee; Stephen Blackadder, International Exchange Committee; Les McMahon, International Exchange Committee; Jess Vailma, Programmes and Training Coordinator.

Cootamundra Shire Council: Ken Trethewey, General Manager; Jim Slattery, Mayor.

Kathy Dever-Todd. Kathy is Manager of the Assets Group at Tararua District Council, and has worked in local government since 1994, with a three year stint out as the CEO of the National Asset Management Strategy Steering Group. She is also a board member for the Ministry of Education Infrastructure Board, IPWEA New Zealand, NAMS New Zealand, and a member of the SOLGM capability working party. Kathy and her family were my hosts in Palmerston North, and Sandy King was my host in Dannevirke. (Pictured: Kathy Dever-Todd and Kate Monaghan.)

1 Kim Hall, facilitator of panel discussion about New Zealand government's poor public image and the issues this creates for councils. New Zealand's local government reportedly has one of the worst public images in the developed world. Councils struggle to deliver some of their key objectives because their communities fail to see the value.
2 Glenn Snelgrove, panel discussion.
3 Jonathan Salter, speaking about the evolution of New Zealand local government accountability.
4 On a side note, the 'Life, Well Run' campaign highlighting the value that professional local government management brings to our communities is worth a look.
5 Barbara McKerrow, CEO, New Plymouth District Council and President of SOLGM.
6 Tararua YouTube Channel.
7 New Zealand reform began in the 1980s and 1990s with requirements for annual planning, financial management and long-term financial strategy, and the Local Government Act 2002 now includes rigorous accountability and decision-making requirements. NSW Integrated Planning and Reporting is still relatively new as it is being implemented by councils, but the NSW legislation is much less prescriptive, allowing for more flexibility to respond to local community needs.
8 After spending just a small amount of time within Tararua District Council, these three organisational values shone through, and were reiterated at a later date during a conversation with Blair King, Chief Executive.

Kate Monaghan is Director Corporate Services at Cootamundra Shire Council (NSW).