Bigger councils hit waste paydirt

By Penny Langfield in Brisbane

Last year’s local government amalgamations in Queensland, while controversial, have proven positive in at least in one respect: some of the new, larger councils are delivering more professional and effective waste management services.

That has been the experience at Mackay Regional Council, according to John Hogg, director of Mackay Waste Services.

Hogg, who spoke at last week’s WasteQ Conference in Brisbane, said the amalgamated council faced many waste management challenges as it united Mackay, Sarina and Mirani councils. This included dealing with inherited issues such as landfills built on wetlands and in national parks; outdated tips; incompatible waste management systems and prices at waste facilities; illegal dumping; uncooperative councils; and conflicting waste collection contracts.

He told about 100 government and private sector delegates from Queensland and interstate that prior to amalgamation about 40 per cent of Queensland’s councils were “either financially weak, financially very weak or financially distressed” and could not cope with waste management issues such as illegal dumping.

“These small councils were operating on a very, very tight budget; it was very difficult for them to manage these sites,” Hogg said.

Since the merger, the Mackay Regional Council has been transforming its waste services.

Hogg said it had re-tendered its waste collection agreement and Mackay Waste Services now enjoyed “the economies of scale you can expect from a large contract”.

He said the creation of Mackay Waste Services in March 2008 had promoted greater sustainability across the council’s waste sites. Old landfills had been closed and replaced with regional transfer stations, and provincial waste services had been consolidated.

“Every site is now staffed, and they all offer the same level of service across the region.”

Meanwhile, executive director – service delivery at Queensland’s Department of Infrastructure and Planning, Peta Jamieson, told conference delegates that changes in her department  had “pushed 60 [job] positions out into the regions” to support the new amalgamated local government structures and to ensure “greater empowerment and self determination for councils”.

She said those in regional areas would benefit from the move from a central to a regional service delivery model, and State Government funding was available to support post-amalgamation councils in aspects such as waste management services.

“From a waste management point of view there’s lots of opportunities out there to be tapping into state money that is available,” Jamieson said.

“It’s important that we make sure that those monies are spent effectively on behalf of our respective communities.”

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