Steve Clayton Awarded Life Membership

On Friday 21 February, after a 41 year long career in local government, with 17 years of this serving LGEA members on the Committee of Management, Steve Clayton was awarded LGEA Life Membership.

Steve reflects on his career with Dubbo Regional Council, how he became involved with the LGEA in the 1980s and the many wins he has been involved with while on the Association's committee.

“The first union I joined was actually The Association of Professional Engineers Australia (APEA) in 1984 when as a relatively new engineer with Dubbo City Council, I was effectively recruited by this organisation on the strength of its access to the Federal Industrial Commission. This was around the time that the LGEA of NSW was getting concerned that its membership was potentially being eroded by such recruiting actions and which eventually led to the LGEA splitting into two arms, a “professional” one of which became the Institute of Municipal Engineering Australia (IMEA) and the union side of the LGEA amalgamating with the Association of Professional Engineers and Scientists Australia (APESA - later becoming APESMA). I therefore lived through a significant period of change in the LGEA from the start. Notwithstanding this change I had already obtained my Ordinance 4 Certificate of Qualification as Engineer in 1986 so that I could become a Corporate member of the original Local Government Engineers’ Association. The value in being affiliated with this well respected local government aligned organisation was very important to me from the start.

My interest in the industrial relations side of the profession was stirred by two changes that occurred in the 1990s. One being the requirement of councils to establish a Consultative Committee to deal with workplace structural design changes. These Committees needed union representation and I was elected the Dubbo LGEA Delegate and therefore a representative on the Committee. Through better understanding of the industrial relations processes between employer and employee and the role of the Union Delegate, my interest in member representation expanded beyond my council to the Orana Group members where eventually I served four terms as Group Secretary along side Group Chair Ian McLennan who was concurrently sitting on the newly formed Committees of the IMEA and LGEA in their split forms. Upon Ian’s retirement from these Committees in 2002 he encouraged me to stand for the LGEA Committee of Management election and I was duly elected into President Lew Oldfield’s Committee commencing in 2003.

Upon joining the Committee in 2002 a significant piece of legislation was passed in the NSW Parliament, the Civil Liability Act (NSW) 2002. This was of great relevance to local government engineers many of whom presided over the management, design and maintenance of vast asset inventories on behalf of councils with huge civil liability implications. Industrial and legal staff from the LGEA, Christine Badcock and Anna Funnel were charged with developing a work value case in support of local government engineers’ entitlement to fair compensation for the additional workload that would be generated through council’s exercising its responsibilities under the Civil Liability Act. I was fortunate to have a good understanding and background in such matters having recently overseen my council’s development of policies and procedures aimed at addressing civil liability exposure and incorporating sound asset management principles with the purpose of providing legal protections for Council. We were sufficiently advanced with this policy development whereby the benefits were already apparent through successful defence of litigation claims. Me and my Director were able to assist Christine with the work value case through informing of the relevant aspects of civil liability exposure at Dubbo City Council and how this impacted on the overall work load of the engineer. Of course the work value case has led to the proclamation the Civil Liability Allowance in December 2006 has been a significant contribution to engineers being fairly compensated for the civil liability responsibilities inherent in their respective positions.

The third period of significant change during my time as a member of LGEA would be the review of Local Government in NSW initiated by the O’Farrell Government in 2011. This process became known as “Fit for the Future” and the strategy implemented by the State Government to eliminate inefficient councils through mergers and boundary changes. At the early stage of this process a meeting was convened in Dubbo of all Mayors from the 152 councils plus relevant stakeholders which included local government union representatives. I was proud to be called to represent the LGEA at this historic meeting in August 2011 which became known as “Dubbo 2036” and bear witness to the Government’s plan and be a part of the consultation process in its early stages. Incorporated within this process of change was the review of the Local Government Act and on more than one occasion I had the opportunity to represent the LGEA’s position that the Act should include the requirement that a council employ a qualified engineer in the interests of an appropriate professional engineering decision making capacity for councils.

Despite my council being rated “Fit for the Future” and against any merger with adjoining councils, this did not prevent it from being merged in 2016. It was insightful to be both an LGEA representative and a participant in the merger fallout that followed and to both personally experience and see how it adversely affected others deal with the work stress and other impacts of the cultural and structural change that ensued. In this regard the value of member support given by the professional staff at LGEA cannot be overestimated in assisting members through mergers and other major changes to workplace conditions and terms of employment. This experience has clearly reinforced to me the value of the benefits in belonging to the LGEA.

It has been a great privilege to serve the Association on the Committee and to be part of the leadership team which has been able to successfully deliver outcomes beneficial to members and take on the various industrial relations challenges that come our way. I am extremely honoured to have been awarded Life Membership as I retire from the Committee as well as from a 41 year career in local government. I really valued the friendship and camaraderie of fellow members of the Committee and very much respected the professionalism of Director, Gordon Brock and his staff in rendering guidance to the Committee and the provision of services to LGEA members.

It also must be said that my involvement at all levels of LGEA business would not have been possible without an obliging employer and I therefore acknowledge the graciousness of Dubbo Regional Council who have unhesitatingly been respectful of my need to seek leave from duties to attend meetings and conferences. Such support has been appreciated and very considerate of the voluntary capacity in which Committee members perform their role.”