Our Council

Port Stephens Council leads, manages and delivers valued community services in a responsible way.

About Council

Our role is to deliver community wellbeing for Port Stephens. Read our vision, purpose and values.

Local governments in Australia are created by acts of state parliaments - in NSW this is the Local Government Act 1993. Local government has no constitutional recognition in Australia. There are more than 700 local government entities across Australia and 128 in NSW.


The principles of public sector governance as articulated by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) include:

Accountability - being answerable for decisions and having meaningful mechanisms in place to ensure adherence to all applicable standards.
Transparency - clear roles and responsibilities and clear procedures for decision making and the exercise of power.
Integrity - acting impartially, ethically and in the interest of the agency and not misusing information required through a position of trust.
Stewardship - using every opportunity to enhance the value of the public assets and institutions that have been entrusted to care.
Efficiency - the best use of resources to further the aims of the organisation with a commitment to evidence based strategies for improvement.
Leadership - from the top is critical to achieve in the agency wide commitment to good governance.
Source Australian Public Service Commission, Foundation of Governance in the Australian Public Service 2005

Port Stephens Council is governed by:

Council also reports to the Office of Local Government for statutory requirements. These statutory reporting requirements are set out in the Office of Local Government circulars along with other legislative guidelines for the purpose of providing guidance to local government. Councillors and the Council also have access to:

The overarching element of governance in Council is the Code of Conduct. Training in the Code of Conduct is compulsory for all staff.

Our Audit Committee enhances Council's corporate governance by providing independent oversight, review and advice on Council's governance, risk, control and compliance framework. It comprises 3 independent members and 2 Councillors. The Mayor is not permitted to be a member of the Committee. The meetings are also attended by the General Manager, Group Managers, Governance Section Manager, Financial Services Section Manager and the internal and external auditors.

PFK is Council's internal auditor. They developed an Internal Audit Plan to properly assess risks in the organisation. It also increases awareness of internal audit and corporate governance across the Council.

Integrated planning and reporting

To meet our community's vision and objectives, we use the Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) Framework. This comprises:

  • Community Strategic Plan — 10 years
  • Council's Delivery Program — 4 years
  • Operational Plan — 1 year

The Act requires that an Annual Report including audited accounts be forwarded to the Minister by 30 November each year. Legislation also requires that Council receives a progress report against the Community Strategic Plan every 6 months.

Financial sustainability

We pride ourselves on running a financially sustainable organisation which is fit for the future. As such, financial sustainability is one of  our 7 key performance metrics to enable us to achieve the goals of our Community Strategic Plan.

Enterprise Risk Management

The Enterprise Risk Management Team promote an integrated approach to risk management by amalgamating:

  • risk management
  • work health and safety
  • environmental management.

At Council, managing risk means minimising adversity and preventing threats that have the potential to stop us from achieving our objectives. It also means leveraging any opportunity that is not being maximised by Council to meet our objectives.

We are committed to managing risk on a systematic, organisation-wide basis consistent with AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) oversees the risk management processes and reports to the Audit Committee on Council's key risks.

Safety is one of our core values. We are committed to seeing our workers go home in the same physical and mental condition, or better, than when they arrived at work.

Our Enterprise Risk Management System allows us to identify, evaluate and control factors in the workplace and our operations which may affect the safety, health, security and wellbeing of employees, customers, contractors, visitors and members of the public.

Legal Services

Council's expenditure on legal matters is continually monitored closely by Council's Executive Team to ensure strict adherence to requirements for accessing legal services. Council manages its legal services function in-house for the day-to-day matters and engages a panel of law firms through a tender process to manage larger and more complex matters.


Effective communication is key to managing Council's reputation and is integral to our ability to engage meaningfully with our community and stakeholders. We can help with:

  • Responding to media requests — the Mayor is generally Council's spokesperson for all policy matters. In their absence, the Deputy Mayor assumes this responsibility. The General Manager is generally Council's spokesperson for operational issues but this may be delegated to employees according to their area of expertise. Councillors may be asked to make comment to the media as a citizen or may be assigned to speak about a Council issue which they have a particular interest in. If you are contacted by the media and need assistance, please contact the Communications Section.
  • Publicity opportunities — Councillors should refer to the Communications Section any issues they believe are worthy of publicity.
  • Reputation management — promoting and defending the Council is a job for all staff and Councillors. As Councillors are often 'the council' in the eyes of many residents, it is important to understand the effect negative public comment has on the reputation of Council as a whole.
  • Issues or crisis management — it is important to manage issues before they become crises. If Councillors are aware of an issue that has the potential to impact negatively on Council publicly, they should notify the General Manager immediately.
  • Website and digital marketing, including social media — our digital channels are a vital connection between Council and the community. We use them to inform, educate, engage, celebrate and have conversations.

Asset management

We are responsible for a large and diverse asset base including roads, bridges, footpaths, drains, libraries, childcare centres, halls, parks, pools, wharves, sporting facilities, land, commercial properties and investments.

Over time, we have greatly increased our net assets which has consequently increased depreciation, operating and maintenance costs to an already large and ageing assets base. Council's Asset Management Plan demonstrates our commitment to developing, managing, maintaining and operating assets to an agreed level of service with our community, as well as optimising life cycle costs.

Our workforce

We employ about 500 people to deliver a broad range of valued services for our community. It's important to have the right people in the right places with the right skills doing the right jobs so that we can meet the long-term goals of our Community Strategic Plan.

The Local Government Act 1993 requires councils to adopt an organisational structure which is appropriate to the needs of each council area and to identify senior staff positions within that structure.

Our Workforce Strategy is the roadmap for how we will achieve our Community Strategic Plan, including what type of organisation we need to be and what resources we require to be effective and efficient.

In 2008, Council developed its own Enterprise Agreement to meet the needs of staff for more flexible working conditions and a fairer salary system.

We have developed a cooperative working relationship with the unions and prides ourselves on our co-operative industrial relations model. About half of our workforce are members of one of the 3 unions active at Council:

  • United Services Union
  • Local Government Engineers Association
  • Development and Environmental Professionals Association.

Port Stephens Council has had one industrial relations dispute in 5 years as a party to a dispute filed against all Hunter Councils. There have been no strikes or industrial action.

All unions participate in our Consultative Committee — a forum for consultation between Council and its employees on matters affecting the workforce, including enterprise agreement, training, restructures, job redesign, salary systems, communication and performance management systems. Our enterprise agreement negotiation process and Consultative Committee models are recognised within local government and in the industrial relations profession as best practice.

Section 345 of the Local Government Act requires councils to develop an Equal Opportunity Management Plan. Achieving improved workplace equity and diversity means identifying and eliminating all forms of discrimination and putting measures in place to overcome the employment disadvantage faced by diversity groups. These include:

  • people from culturally diverse backgrounds
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • people with disabilities
  • women
  • people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex
  • mature age workers.

We have dedicated contact officers and processes to ensure equity and diversity issues are dealt with in a timely, fair and consistent manner.

We are committed to applying the principles of workplace governance that underpin the Code of Conduct. We have designed a Business Operating System (BOS) to communicate clear and common methods of work for all staff. This aligns our work practices and enables us to better manage our scarce resources to achieve our community's vision. In all instances, the Business Excellence philosophy underpins how we go about our work. It is all about doing the right things in the best way.

We take advantage of regional resource sharing through the Hunter Joint Organisation. By partnering with other councils in the Hunter region, we have greater access to staff training, procurement and other intellectual property.

We want our employees to be accountable, meaning 'doing what I say I will do' and continually behaving in a way that demonstrates our organisational values. Our Individual Work and Development Plan is our performance management system which assists staff in knowing what is expected of them by Council. It also contains a learning and development plan for each employee.

We are committed to creating a 'learning organisation' through supporting staff to develop their individual skills to achieve organisational success.

Learning and development needs are identified through our Individual Work and Development Plans, which are reviewed twice a year. This ensures that all staff have the skills and competencies required to perform the duties of their position. We deliver much of our training in-house, with the exception of ticketed or statutory training and VET courses.

We support employees who wish to undertake tertiary and vocational education to assist their career goals within Council.

Our Apprentice, Trainee and Cadet program has been developed to create opportunities for entry-level employees.

Measuring success

Council uses 7 key success measures to record its performance. Targets for each of these measures are determined annually and are listed in the Delivery Program. The measures are:

  1. Service delivery
  2. Customer satisfaction
  3. Employee engagement
  4. Governance
  5. Risk management
  6. Financial sustainability
  7. Infrastructure backlog (Asset maintenance ratio)

Continuous improvement

We are dedicated to meeting the present and future needs of our community in a cost effective, accountable and collaborative way. We do this by continuously improving the way we go about our business using the Australian Business Excellence Framework — doing the right things, the best way.

Service review program

To create a sustainable and future-proof organisation, we developed a service review program. This ensures we deliver services demanded by the community in the most efficient and best way possible.