Tell us about the journey to your current role and what it this role entails?
Starting life as an electrical mechanic (Breville, Dick Smith) I studied geography and economics after a period in the workforce. An eclectic Arts degree also included pure maths and computing science.
I then slid sideways into town planning completing a postgraduate diploma in 1984, the year I started work at Shellharbour Municipal Council. That Council was an excellent grounding in local government and also included key learnings around entrepreneurial activity by local government and also involvement in a special transport project which sought to implement demand responsive transport to the Shellharbour area. This trial, which included real-time information and booking systems was technically successful and started my journey on the effective use of technology in improving customised services to the public.
This was followed by 15 years teaching at the University of New England, where I spent a period of time as Sub – Dean, Urban and Regional Planning as well as Director, Centre for Local Government. I was heavily involved in developing international frameworks around planning learning and avoiding imposing Western cultural models on non—Western nations. For my sins I was also one of the departmental network coordinators.
My teaching areas were transportation planning and development assessment.
I became heavily involved in educational paradigms around on-line education and pioneered in the areas of virtual meetings, group chats and streaming of material. I developed a learning model which integrated face to face and distance education student cohorts. I also utilised voice recognition technologies to enhance work production. At this time I started a consulting firm, Wakefield Planning as I was teaching in the area of planning practice.
I left UNE in 2005 and moved to Melbourne consulting full-time with a boutique town planning practice which had clients nationwide. Work was reasonably evenly split between the development industry, objectors and community groups and government clients. The business was a virtual business with all staff working from home, using electronic communication for both integration of the file systems and communication between staff.
In 2015 I took a one-year contract with one of my clients, Moree Plains Shire Council and was successful in 2016 in obtaining the permanent role of Director, Planning and Community Development. We are currently working on translating the “smart city” concept into a “smart regions” concept, and are currently hosting a demand responsive transport trial by the NSW state government.
Can you describe a project you are working on or recently completed? What challenges did you face along the way and how were they overcome?
I am working on two major but related projects at the moment. The first is developing an infrastructure response to the Inland Rail project, which comes through our primary town of Moree. This has involved a comprehensive transport and infrastructure study together with the preparation of a business case. The overall project has a healthy benefit cost ratio of 2.63:1.
This has been a complex project in terms of negotiations with a wide range of state and federal agencies, as well as strong advocacy regarding the benefits of the Inland Rail project to this region.
Technically it has been quite challenging particularly with respect to the transport modelling. We have utilised the CSIRO TrANSIT model in terms of modelling overall freight flows before and after the project however have needed to supplement this with some local area traffic modelling as we move forward towards design. Issues of data around model calibration have arisen as we have progressed through the projects.
Negotiations with private and public landholders have also been critical, and these have been addressed mainly through memorandums of understanding around process. All relevant parties are members of either the Moree Intermodal Transport Task Force and/or the Moree Precinct Activation Task Force. The task force model has proved very effective in terms of providing a neutral framework for common issues to be discussed.
The second project (I know it only said one!) refers to a complementary project which is working with a private provider to establish high-speed full duplex Internet broadband (100mB up/down) to serve the entire agribusiness sector, including on – farm, processing and related and supporting industries.
A main challenge here has been the development of appropriate contractual arrangements for the use of Council infrastructure which has been overcome with the assistance of specialist legal advice plus some good, old-fashioned, negotiations.
The Internet project complements the physical logistics chain project so as to ensure an integrated physical and electronic logistics path between farm gate and consumer.
What did you learn from this project? What did it achieve?
The main learnings from both these projects are the importance of understanding the imperatives and constraints associated with industry partners. In addition, the need to provide neutral forums where interested parties can set aside (at times) business rivalries to focus on areas of common need and concern has proved critical.
Getting sound professional and technical advice has also been a key element in project success, noting this does not come cheaply. We are looking at half million dollars and counting.
Finally, the importance of appropriate advocacy at local, regional, state and federal levels is essential to ensure that projects are compatible with the aims and objectives of various state actors.
At the end of the day we are close to achieving an integrated physical and digital logistics chain from farm gate to consumer together with full networking across the entire agribusiness sector and its support industries (including the Council).
What excites you most about the future?
I am both excited by and somewhat apprehensive about aspects of technology as they become more pervasive. On one level we have less and less direct control over technology that affects our lives however on the other level there are tremendous opportunities particularly through “big data”, high speed networking and developing better analytical tools. The ability to enhance service provision through the effective, balanced and careful use of technologies is a major potential benefit for the public. This does, however, need to recognise variable levels of access.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to further their career in government, what would it be?
If you are already in government, spend some time in the private sector then come back. If you are starting a career, look to begin in government before getting private sector experience. Government creates a unique public service outlook which is critical to a successful career in the sector.
Where do you look to for further education? E.g. articles, podcasts, news sources, online courses, university etc.?
The Masters and PhD are still on the “bucket list”. In the meantime we have short courses, seminars, conferences, extensive reading and extensive listening to other skilled professionals.
What are you most looking forward to at the event?
The meeting of minds! I find it a fantastic opportunity both to network but also to gain insight and perspective into key challenges facing local government sector in the effective and productive use of technology to enhance public services.