National consistency for asset management and financial planning

“Infrastructure management and service delivery levels are key issues now and always have been,” said John Truman, President of the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) – NSW division. He was speaking at the NSW division annual conference, which was staged in Sydney from 13 to 15 May and culminated with the CivEnEx Field Days on 16–17 May at Eastern Creek.

Recently appointed as Minister for Local Government in the Iemma Government, Paul Lynch was a keynote speaker. Previously a Councillor with Liverpool City Council, the Minister said that this experience will greatly assist him in his new portfolio.

“There has been significant, robust debate on the longterm future of Local Government,” Paul Lynch said. “This debate is very appropriate. The community is changing and therefore our responses need to be sustainable. Local Government is critically important in meeting rapidly changing community needs.”

The Minister called for a greater emphasis on ‘twinning’. This is where a City Council joins with a Shire to share ideas and expertise. He said with a number of very productive city/country partnerships already in place, there is plenty of scope for more. He told delegates it is clear that Councils must have longterm asset plans that tie in with their financial plans.

“Councils need to work with a consistent approach if Local Government is to win more funding from the Commonwealth Government,” the Minister said.

Deputy Director General of the NSW Department of Local Government, Ross Woodward, said that in the last 12 months, asset management has moved from discussion in engineering circles to now be on the national agenda.

“In dispelling the notion, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, with assets, we just can’t afford to wait until they break before we fix them,” he said.

Calling for ‘clusters and more resource sharing’, Ross Woodward said that it is vital for Councils to help each other “so we all get across the line together”. However, he added that no amount of resource sharing is going to solve the widening infrastructure funding gap.

He said in March all State and Territory Local Government and Planning Ministers signed off on the need for a national approach with all Councils Australia wide being required to have a longterm asset plan linked to a financial plan.

“We need a national framework providing a consistency approach to financial sustainability indicators, asset planning and reporting, and financial reporting,” he said. “A Council’s longterm asset management plan needs to be a component of its strategic plan, not separate from it. This must then be linked to its long term financial plan with the Council making decisions as to whether it can afford all that the community wants. Lastly, after close community consultation, service standards need to be defined.”