MANAGING ITS FUTURE
DAVID GARDINER ACIB is a Hinterland resident and a former chartered international banker with wide experience in business development, large scale development finance, project and risk management. He has held senior executive and board positions in Europe, Asia, and the United States and is a former member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
The Maleny Community Precinct is one of the most ambitious Council and community projects on the Sunshine Coast. It covers 126 hectares, has a 30 year life span and will embrace a broad mix of community ambitions including sports grounds, aquatic centre, 18 hole golf course, parks, gardens and walkways, a commercial plant nursery and the preservation of an historic Hinterland home.
COUNCIL has put a modest $73 million price tag on the Precinct venture and, while it has published a master plan detailing its physical scope, it has yet to explain a framework for governance and management of the project. We have yet to see the checks and balances that will regulate the various stakeholder groups who will attempt to realise the dreams of their community. Hinterland resident David Gardiner has a background of international business development. In this article for the Hinterland Times, David sets out guidelines for a successful long-term outcome for the Maleny Community Precinct.\
Ratepayers’ interests in the Precinct are represented by a number of community groups whose expectations do not naturally coincide. The finite amount of resources – land, people and money – will ensure that the strong element of competition between stakeholders that we have already seen is likely to remain a significant factor influencing the project. So, ongoing development will require careful and balanced stewardship.
The following organisations have expectations of being granted formal leases or, in some instances, memoranda of understanding (MOUs), enabling them to occupy the Precinct: Maleny Sports and Recreation Club, Barung Landcare, Maleny Golf Club, Maleny Historical Society, Maleny and District Green Hills Fund.
Although there is a master plan, precise boundaries are yet to be finally agreed on. Indeed, this remains a major point of contention for some groups. But what happens if one or more of these groups is unable to complete its plans, or complete them within an agreed timeframe? Business cases have already been prepared by these groups but according to Council, several submissions are fairly rudimentary. The community and Council must be aware that the long term viability of some of these groups’ plans remains uncertain, perhaps even doubtful.
Whose best practice?
Council sees the Precinct development extending over thirty years, at a cost of around A$73 million – a relatively low priority for Council – although any project of this magnitude demands a professional level of oversight under a rigorous governance regime that accords with accepted best practice.
This was not evident under Caloundra City Council’s oversight of earlier community consultative group meetings, where there was an absence of appropriate terms of reference and a failure to keep proper minutes. It is surprising that the current community advisory group meetings held under the auspices of the Sunshine Coast Council similarly lacked proper minutes to record decisions and recommendations. This is hard to fathom, to put it mildly, and should be unacceptable to both group members and Council.
There are risks associated with a development of this magnitude, not the least of which is the political risk stemming from a possible change of government (or Council) policy. Unfortunately the Precinct land is zoned pink in the South East Queensland regional plan, so the land may become subject to development in a number of different ways that are not in step with the current Precinct concept.
At this stage established business principals such as structured project plans can only be loosely applied to the project. There are unpredictable cash flows, there is an uncertain supply of labour (volunteers) and there is considerable difficulty in establishing fixed project milestones, timelines and dependencies.
Collectively these risks represent ‘execution risk’. Will each group, and Council, deliver what is presently promised, when they say they will? What happens if one user group fails in its plans or, in the case of Council, shifts its priorities? Against this background it is concerning for example, that potential user groups currently continue to lobby for changes in notional boundaries appearing on the master plan, to their own benefit and to the detriment of other groups, with their own viability still unproven.
There was a shocking failure of governance that arose under the auspices of the previous Caloundra City Council in 2007. Council’s own rules and guidelines were shamefully flouted at a public meeting, and professional Council officers’ recommendations were ignored. So, the question that now arises is: what standard of governance will be imposed by the present Council to assure ratepayers it represents and safeguards the interests of all stakeholders and will professionally manage those interests in an unbiased and transparent manner for the life of the Precinct project.
Fortunately, the Sunshine Coast Council has wide experience in managing large public areas including Stockland Park and Maroochy Botanic Gardens. In these examples diverse stakeholders substantially shared a similar vision. That can’t be said for the Maleny Community Precinct to date – all the more reason, if one were needed, for comprehensive management plans and policies to be developed, adopted, published and enforced.
This is a complex project partnership between Council and a diverse group of community stakeholders. So, any management plan should recognise a form of private public partnership. We have The Council of Australian Governments National Public Private Partnership Policy as a guide. The key principles that underscore Australia’s national policy are:
• Value for Money
• Public Interest
• Risk Allocation
• Output Oriented
Governance & Management
Effective governance is proscribed partly by law and by what is ethically desirable in both behaviour and actions. In terms of the Precinct, good governance applies equally to individual advisory group members who represent community stakeholders and ratepayers, and Council. Overall six core overlapping principles are widely accepted for effective governance:
• Participation: the degree of involvement of all stakeholders;
• Decency: the degree to which the formation and stewardship of the rules is undertaken without harming or causing grievance to people;
• Transparency: the degree of clarity and openness with which decisions are made;
• Accountability: the extent to which political actors are responsible to society for what they say and do; • Fairness: the degree to which rules apply equally to everyone in society; and
• Efficiency: the extent to which limited human and financial resources are applied without waste, delay or corruption or without prejudicing future generations. A set of key indicators can be designed that enable an audit process to be imposed, without which accountability will prove difficult to exercise.
What management structure will best suit the ongoing development of the Maleny Community Precinct, and at the same time encourage an appropriate high level of governance? Options include an informal partnership, a binding partnership agreement, a separate formally incorporated body. Of course, no outcome can be guaranteed, whatever management vehicle is used, and however strict the adopted governance policy may be. But with patience, honesty, limitless goodwill, and a firm commitment from all community actors, Council and State Government, great things can be achieved.
Brisbane’s Roma Street Parkland and South Bank; Kawana’s Quad Park and Maroochy’s Botanical Garden, are fine examples of far-sighted vision becoming today’s reality. To achieve a similar outcome, Maleny community stakeholders and particularly Sunshine Coast Council must, between them, assume the responsibility and accountability for delivering what they promise in an uncompromisingly professional manner – all aspects of which should reflect governance best practice.