Here are a few extras that we couldn’t fit in the magazines.
This is the full text of Tracking Onslow journalist Jess Allia’s interview with the incoming CEO of the Shire of Ashburton Neil Hartley.
The interview was conducted for the short article on page 25 of Tracking Onslow 3.
Neil: I’ve probably been in local government longer than you’ve been on this planet I suspect! I was born in Bunbury in 1959 when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. My parents are farmers so I grew up on a farm in a relatively remote location. Nothing comparable to the Pilbara of course, but on a farm, not in a city or town environment. I went to school, a little country school, where there were only 40 odd people and I was one of only three kids in my class. Two girls and myself, so yeah how lucky can you get? If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have been even luckier! So I’m used to small communities and small groups and those sorts of things. I guess there will be people wondering who’s this clown from the city who’s come out to the Pilbara to tell us how to do things? I guess it’s important for me to highlight that half of my career has been spent in small country communities and only half has been spent in the city. I did a couple of years in college in Perth and then went to work. My first job was a junior cashier at the shire of Dalwallinu doing manual dog licenses and manual motor vehicle licenses. It’s something that many people would have an absolute giggle about now, about how mundane and old-fashioned things used to work in those days. I travelled around a bit in Dalwallinu, Three Springs, Kojonup, and then went to work at a City Council when my kids got a little older and I was a little bit concerned about their education needs. I’ve spent the best part of about twenty years now in the city.
Jess: Why the Pilbara?
Neil: I guess you always need a reason to move. There’s been a reason every time I’ve moved in all my jobs, whether it’s been my kids’ education or something. Local government reform is happening in Perth at the moment. That’s being announced next week, in fact, as to what’s happening. It will still take a couple of years to filter through the system and for changes to actually physically occur, but that was the reason I thought well it’s about time I perhaps consider my future again. Why the Pilbara? Well most of my family have worked at various times in the Pilbara and the Kimberley and I’m the only one who hasn’t had a chance to work up there. Of course there’s an awful lot happening up there. It’s not like you’re stepping into an organisation, which is just a care and maintenance place. It’s going to be really very busy and my current role is quite busy being in a local government on the front of urban development in Perth. In Kwinana we have a thousand households a year being built, so one new person every four hours comes into our local community. It’s exchanging busy for busy. It’ll be something new and different and it’s a beautiful place and beautiful part of the world. I actually like the solitude of the remoteness and yet there is the capacity to hopefully make a difference to communities and help out in all aspects. Whether that’s the economic development of the area or community development, in a place that’s really going somewhere.
Jess: So you’ve not been to Onslow before?
Neil: No, I haven’t been to Onslow before, but I’ve been to Tom Price a couple of times. I’ve been past Onslow. Like a lot of people I’ve been to Exmouth and Karratha. I worked on the original Burrup Peninsula gas pipeline 30 years ago, so I remember going up there. That was the last time I’ve actually been to Karratha. I’ve been fishing up at Exmouth a couple of times, Monkey Mia and different things, but not to Onslow. I’ve saved the best ‘til last!
Jess: When will you start and will you live there permanently?
Neil: I am starting on I think it’s the 4th of October from memory. I’m actually getting married again in November so I’ve got 5 weeks on in October and 3 or 4 weeks off in November. So I get married and then back again. There’ll be a little bit of a slight interruption to my starting tenure, but in October I’ll start and I’ll be living in Tom Price.
Jess: Where is Tom Price in relation to Onslow?
Neil: Well, Tom Price is only 400km from Onslow, so just a quick four-hour drive, I expect.
Jess: For Western Australia it’s probably not that long a trip
Neil: Well up there it’s probably very short, but down here it’s like going from Perth to Albany. It’s the same distance, so it’s the part of the job that is going to be challenging. Anybody can drive 400km and I enjoy driving, but the issue will be how do you manage to culture an organisation that is separated by so much distance? Trying to maintain consistency of service standards and strategic direction with such vast distances and different cultures within the office and within the communities as well. There will be challenges, more and different to Roebourne and Port Hedland and those sorts of places, which are smaller geographic areas and smaller in population. There will be differences between Ashburton and other Pilbara local governments.
Jess: What will be the major challenges?
Neil: Tom Price is the head office for Ashburton, so Onslow is a town in the shire of Ashburton. Ashburton is a little over a hundred thousand square kilometres of local government and the major towns in there are Tom Price, Pannawonica, Paraburdoo, Onslow, and some Aboriginal communities as well. The shire of Ashburton’s head office is in Tom Price and it has offices in Paraburdoo and Onslow, all of which are distant from the head office. Paraburdoo is 80km from Tom Price and Onslow is 400km from Tom Price.
So it’s a bit like, you’re in Perth, you’re sitting there and your other office is in Albany. If you could just nick down there this afternoon and address a couple of issues, that’d be great. But would you ever think of doing that? Well no, you wouldn’t would you? But that’s the option up there, I mean they have got those towns, they have to be serviced, there’s only one local government. We have to find ways of doing that in an amicable, sustainable, cost-effective way that takes into account the different cultures and expectations of those communities. One’s on the coast, one’s inland – they’re different economic development parameters – it’s going to be a significant challenge.
Jess: What do you think about ECU’s involvement in Onslow?
What an opportunity it is for Edith Cowan University to work out the differences between those communities and how they can be managed. I guess the community strategic plan that is already developed for the Shire sort of addresses some of those questions of difference. The trick is actually managing it. It’s going to be interesting. I’m looking forward to it! You’re working on the community changes as the Chevron Wheatstone project progresses, which is a significant. Onslow is effectively the centre of the universe when it comes to new gas business. The eye of the globe is on Onslow and yet Onslow is probably not ready for the eye of the world to be upon it. So your work is very, very important to understand what’s happening there and what the community thinks. That can then be used to liaise with Chevron to make sure the wellbeing of the community is suitably maintained. I’ll be just 400km away from the centre of the universe. I’ve never been so close to the centre of the universe in my life.
Jess: In terms of Wheatstone and Macedon, what are the other challenges that you think you will face in your new role up there?
Neil: I think the big challenges will be the physical size of the shire and the different communities. Trying to make sure that everybody is getting a good level of service, bearing in mind that there will be serious limitations on those service levels. Managing the expectations and the differences. There’s a community centre being built in this part of the shire. The difficulties are attracting staff to those areas and retaining them with the ever-increasing expectations of the skill sets that are required to manage to contemporary standards. Building the skills of the current staff to meet the community’s expectations is also important. Making sure that the whole process is efficient. Using technology like Skype and those sorts of things for travelling so that hopefully it won’t be necessary for me to have to spend a day of my week travelling to Onslow. Perhaps I could do that with modern technology five times a week but with less time than it would take me to physically transport myself there. I mean clearly I have to go there physically from time to time, but you want to get there as often as you can and doing that by technology hopefully will be a win-win situation. Overarching all of that is the sustainability argument. Making sure that in this really busy time that perhaps there might be more money there than there used to 2 years back, but using those funds wisely and making sure that you don’t unwittingly cause yourself a future financial problem by making suboptimal decisions today. They’re building an airport in Onslow for example. So who’s responsible for the ongoing maintenance of that, and if it is the local government then we need to be making sure that the structure and the usage of it and the style of the construction is such that it can actually operate in a sustainable way. You don’t want to have to close the airport down because it can’t sustain itself with a smaller population when things change. So understanding the future, understanding your costs, understanding all those sorts of things, having your eye on both today and 20 years time at the same time is really important. The whole of Australia is struggling with structure maintenance. Whether that’s University buildings that should be being upgraded but can’t afford to be, to roads that can’t meet the challenges of today in the North West, to whether you build an airport in Onslow because you can or whether you drive 80km to the next airport because it’s better to have one good airport instead of two half-good airports. All those things need to be considered. That’s easy to say but hard to work out what’s the best answer.
Jess: What are 3 of the biggest things you hope to achieve as CEO?
Neil: Three? This early in the day? Well, I would like to make sure that the future of Ashburton is secured by taking advantage of the current activities that are up there. I guess I alluded to that with the sustainability question before. I think maximising our opportunities from the current natural resource programs that are in place, like building an airport in Onslow, which would never have been contemplated before Chevron went there. So making sure that advantage is there and maintainable and sustainable so the community can enjoy that forever. Getting that mix right, setting your sights at the appropriate level, having people understand why it is set at a certain level is really important. Educating the community so that they appreciate the standard of service that they can get, and maintain it. So, I guess that links with community wellbeing. Community wellbeing is one of those funny, sexy terms about a whole range of things like employment, service levels, availability of newspapers, doctors and hospitals. It’s maximising the opportunities there as best we can. I mean clearly it’s a remote place, everything is very expensive, but can we find a good mix of expectation and capacity and understanding so that people are happy with where they live and what they get and what they do.
If I’ve got to pick 3, the third one would be organisation or professionalism and capacity to make sure the actual local government itself is running as efficiently, effectively, professionally and appropriately as it possibly can. That also requires a degree of resourcing and programs around it like attracting and retaining staff, or finding other ways of doing our business. New ways, better technology, smarter ways of doing things, minimising waste, maximising outputs, all the normal things. There’s nothing exciting, nothing extraordinary about that. It’s just about being smart, using what you’ve got and using the location to your advantage. It’s different for everywhere. You apply different principles in Kwinana as what you would in Ashburton because the environment is different, the rules are different, the expectations are different and the culture’s different. So you’re making the best of what you’ve got, effectively, and producing as much as you can with as little as possible.
Jess: You mentioned the Shire before, achieving better ways of running local government. Can you comment on the Ashburton council situation at all?
Neil: Only that I know what’s happened and the councillors and officers that I have met all seem to want to get on and do the right thing by their community. I don’t know the previous CEO Jeff Breen, but there aren’t many people in the world who go out of their way to do the wrong thing. There are people in the world, the vast majority of the people in the world, when they do come unstuck often do that out of ignorance or best intentions but weren’t aware of the rules. So I’m fully expecting what I’ll find up there is, and what I seem to have found already in my two minutes, is a bunch of really keen people who love their community and their job but they managed to do something wrong. I don’t know what the impact of that has been. I trust it wasn’t financially disadvantageous for the local government, but they didn’t cross some t’s and dots some i’s. I’m guessing a lot because that report is confidential to the state government and so whilst I did my due diligence as best I could, the answer I got was that there is nothing so wrong up there that can’t be fixed by some good governance practices. As my background is largely around governance, I had a great deal of confidence that there was not much that needed to be done to make sure things were running well, and so I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought there were any underlying, cultural problems in place. I don’t want to understate the importance of good governance or make it sound like the mistakes made were insignificant, they were clearly important enough for the state government to do what they did, but I’m comfortable that we can sort any problems out that did occur and onwards and upwards from here on!
Jess: Any additional comments?
Neil: Only to say that I am looking forward to working in the Pilbara, a place I’ve never had the opportunity to work in before, and I’m looking forward to the challenges that are there. I’m looking forward to meeting the people and the communities that are in those various places and doing the best I can do to do the best for them. I look forward to reading what I said in the next magazine!
This is a speech that Shire of Ashburton President Kerry White gave at the Onslow Industry Forum on June 27, 2013
Excepts from this speech were used in Kerry’s “In Your Words” piece in Tracking Onslow 3.
I know in my capacity as Shire President and Onslow ward councillor, that Chevron have made – and are continuing to make – a significant contribution to Onslow, and we are grateful that you have introduced yourselves as a warm and generous neighbour.
But can I say, while we value corporate generosity, we also value corporate behaviour.
You have your Chevron way and we acknowledge and respect that.
But we also have our Onslow Way – the way we have learnt to live and work together for generations in this town. So I ask that you, as partners with us in Onslow for the next 30 to 60 years, respect our way of life. I ask that you work with us, try to understand us, and help us to minimise your impact on our Onslow – our way of life.
Obviously Onslow will grow, it will change. But as much as it is possible, help us to retain the Onslow Way. Help us to retain a relaxed, affordable, casual lifestyle that not only is attractive to those who live here, but attracts people to town.
We don’t want to be Karratha or Tom Price, or Paraburdoo or Panawonica. We are the only town in the Shire of Ashburton that was not born of the resource industry that has its own proud and independent history. While we welcome you, we don’t want to be a Chevron town, any more than we want to be an Onslow Salt town or an ExxonMobil or a BHP town.
I say this respectfully, not disrespectfully. I say this as a representative of the Onslow people here today.
And I also say to you, congratulations on the sanctioning of your project and we wish the project every success. Congratulations on the way you have worked with us to understand our fears and our aspirations. And we look forward to you being part of our town and our future for a long time to come.
And most of all, I look forward to generations of Onslow residents being able to proudly say that there is still an Onslow Way – a way of life that we are proud to have inherited from the generations of Pilbara pioneers that not only helped found our town, but make it a great place to live – now and in the future.