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Grafton News

Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart

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Going, going… Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay has begun his exit strategy from council. He went on long service leave on Friday and will officially resign in October next year.

Ashley’s retirement a decision of the heart

By Tim Howard

Four years of leading from the front for Clarence Valley Council general manager has taken its toll on the 22-year veteran of local government Ashley Lindsay.
Mr Lindsay, who came to the Clarence Valley from Sydney’s Northern Beaches to take up the finance manager’s role at Maclean Shire Council in 1999, retired last Friday after four of the toughest years in the region’s history.

Pitched into the role after the sudden departure of his predecessor Scott Greensill in March 2017, he found himself leading his council through crisis after crisis.
Some were self inflicted, like dealing with the asbestos uncovered on the site of the council’s controversial South Grafton depot build.
Others, like imposing a three-year rate hike through a special rates variation and meeting the State Government’s Fit for the Future requirements, were imposed from outside.
And the triple whammy of drought, fire and floods which devastated the Valley in quick succession between 2018 and 2020, was definitely a force of nature.
And as he considered his exit strategy to retirement, Mr Lindsay has found himself leading the council through a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has turned this term of council into a five-and-a-quarter-year marathon.

“I originally intended to work with the new council for the first few months after the election in September and then go about now,” he said.
That time frame went out the window when the election, originally postponed for 12 months from September last year, was put off until December 4.
Mr Lindsay contemplated altering his plans until a “health scare” in mid May reframed his view of the job.
“The health scare that I had, that certainly gave me some direction on what I should do and that was get out of a stressful environment,” he said.
Typically Mr Lindsay downplayed the “scare”.

It was actually a potentially lethal brush with ventricular tachycardia, which in his case was the bottom chambers of his heart beating out of synch with the top chambers.
The result was lack of oxygen reaching the brain and his decision to go to hospital rather than go home for a lie down, saved his life.
“I was lucky, my heart rate was 217 when I got on the table,” he said.

“They hit me with the paddles. I was wide awake. I jumped. I felt like I hit the roof
“It whacked my heart back into rhythm. Then I went off to Lismore and Gold Coast and had the pacemaker put in. If I’d gone home, I would have laid down. It would have been it.”

Council amalgamation is another issue that has played out during his time in Clarence Valley councils and he has changed his views on it over time.
But he also believed the State Government could have handled the 2004 version in a more financially responsible fashion.
“I marched up the main street of Maclean with all the other staff, opposing the amalgamation when it was being considered,” he said.
Mr Lindsay found himself right at the coal face when the call to amalgamate came.

“I took the call from the Minister for Local Government (Tony Kelly),” he said. “Ross Bryant was the general manager of the day and he was away at the time.
“So I took the call, that said ‘your council’s been sacked’.”

But unlike the 2016 round of council amalgamations, where councils received between $10 million and $15 million from the government to smooth the process, the new Clarence Valley Council was left to fend for itself.

Accompanying the amalgamations were regulations forbidding forced staff redundancies for three years, but there was an even bigger and more costly challenge that soaked up any savings amalgamation might have meant for the new council.

“It was significant for us to get all the offices networked up for IT purposes,” he said.
“We had to go to tender for a new corporate finance system.

“Initially the councils operated from the amalgamation date through to July 1 2005 we were using the former councils’ accounting systems.
“So Grafton, Copmanhurst, Maclean and Pristine Waters. We were all paying the staff with the former council’s accounting systems, then consolidating those to create the first set of accounts for Clarence Valley Council.”

He said the inability of the council to exploit the efficiencies of amalgamation allied to the failure of state government to subsidise the costs, contributed to the need for the Special Rates Variation which jacked up rates by 8% a year from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
The amalgamation also turned a lot of the public against the council and more than 17 years later many in the community would like to see the decision reversed.
But Mr Lindsay is not one of them.

He described the merger of the four general purpose and two county councils as “the best outcome for local government in the Clarence Valley”.
“The organisation now has the capacity to meet the various challenges that face local government,” he said.
“We’ve got greater capacity. The replacement of the timber bridges is a great example.

“The organisation has a greater capacity to manage. We’ve got $31 million in grant money to replace 31 timber bridges.
“Some of those we’re doing ourselves, through us managing the project. Others we’re working with Transport for NSW and Kyogle Shire Council through a joint tender process.”

Working at this scale both allowed the council to fix a problem that’s been building in the region for decades and create some real cost savings.
“Long term that’s a significant operating cost reduction for us, because those bridges should last 100 years,” he said.
He also said the council’s decision to stop borrowing and reduce its debt will pay dividends.

“I think the general fund should be debt free by 2027-28 – and that’s not far away – that will be an annual saving of between $3 million and $4 million a year that can be allocated to other infrastructure.”
While Mr Lindsay was confident he was handing over the council in a better state than when he took control, there was still a major financial issue to work on.
“On the downside of things, we still don’t meet out infrastructure benchmarks,” he said.

“Asset management and identifying and putting together everything we look after has been a real challenge.
“We’ve discovered in the last 12 months a number of assets that flood plain and water assets that we didn’t have on our books.
“What that’s done, it’s increased our depreciation which has impacted on our operating performance ratio.

“I believe council’s in a sound financial position, but it’s still got some way to go to address the infrastructure renewal that’s required and do it at the right time.”
Mr Lindsay also has some thoughts on his replacement.

There was some controversy about the council appointing governance director Laura Black as acting general manager when Mr Lindsay stepped down.
Council voted 5-4 in favour of Ms Black, but the five supporting votes came from councillors not contesting Saturday’s poll.
Mr Lindsay was concerned the new council might overturn that decision.

“That would be disappointing,” he said. “I don’t think the council had a good experience when Stuart McPherson left, they appointed an acting general manager from outside the organisation.

“I feel the councillors of the day found it was not a good experience for them.
He said in discussions with the mayor and senior staff decided to seek stability in the team.

“We’ve only just appointed a new director of environment and planning and the director of works and civil, Jamie Fleeting only been here 18 months,” Mr Lindsay said.
“We’ve embarked on significant change in the organisation. Were still trying to put together the new organisational structure.
“Laura is very much aware of the direction we’re taking and what we need to achieve.
“She has a very good understanding of the new integrated planning and reporting requirements for the council.”
While the council has been a part of for more than two decades begins to reshape itself, Mr Lindsay was looking forward to getting away from it all and returning to his home town of Warialda to spend time with his parents.

“I haven’t been able to get home for more than six months, so that’s one of the first things on my agenda,” he said.
But the council staff hasn’t seen the last of him as he plans to continue his fortnightly Brekky with the Boss sessions he started when he came to the job.
“I cook a barbecue breakfast and staff have a chance to talk with me about issues at work,” he said.

It’s also a chance for us to recognise staff achievements and hand out awards to recognise milestones in careers and other achievements.”

 

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Entertainment

Free healthy lifestyle program for families in Tweed, Coraki and Grafton

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Go4Fun Free healthy lifestyle program for families in Tweed, Coraki and Grafton

Free healthy lifestyle program for families in Tweed, Coraki and Grafton

 

Families in NSW can access support to build healthy habits together, plus tips and assistance with getting active, healthy eating and wellbeing.

Go4Fun is a free 10-week after school program for children aged 7-13 and their families, which aims to support their health and wellbeing.

Parents and carers can now enrol their primary school aged children in the Term 2 programs in Tweed, Grafton and Coraki.

Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) Acting Director of Integrated Care and Allied Health Services, Kathryn Watson said the program is for kids and their families who want to get healthier together.

“For many families, the focus is on just getting by on a day-to-day basis, and many don’t have the money to invest in healthy lifestyle programs,” Ms Watson said.

“We know many parents can be overwhelmed by the amount of healthy lifestyle information available. Go4Fun helps by providing easy tips to make healthy changes and involves parents, carers and children in activities to help put these into practice.

“This free program allows families to have the chance to learn healthy habits, and have fun together.”

The program includes games, activities, prizes and a supermarket tour. It also helps families and children to connect with others in their local area.

“Families love that the program is free and that it helps their child’s wellbeing, including their sleep. It creates a space to connect and build relationships as a family,” Ms Watson said.

“For families who are not in the Tweed, Grafton or Coraki areas, the Go4Fun online program is always an option.”

Parents and carers can sign up to the program directly, and health professionals and GPs can also refer their patients.

Places are available for Term 2 in the following locations:

  • CORAKI
    Aboriginal Go4Fun
    Tuesdays 4pm-6pm, starting 30 April
    Location: Coraki Youth Hall, 75 Bridge St, Coraki NSW 2471
    To register for the Coraki program, call Coraki Campbell HealthOne on (02) 6683 9000
  • GRAFTON
    Go4Fun
    Tuesdays 4pm-6pm, starting 30 April
    Location: PCYC, 300 Powell Street, Grafton NSW 2460
  • TWEED
    Go4Fun
    Wednesdays 4pm-6pm, starting 1 May
    Location: Banora Point Community Centre, Cnr Leisure Dr, Woodlands Dr, Banora Point NSW 2486

For more information and to register your child, call 1800 780 900, visit here.

 

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Grafton News

Big River Group Completes $22 Million Upgrade to Grafton Timber Factory

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John Lorente, CEO of Big River Group

Big River Group Completes $22 Million Upgrade to Grafton Timber Factory

 

Big River Group, a renowned figure in the diversified manufacturing and distribution of timber and building products, proudly announces the completion of a significant upgrade to its Grafton timber factory. This $22 million project, bolstered by support from the Australian and New South Wales (NSW) Governments under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, marks a significant stride in the sustainable manufacturing of specialty technical timber products, thereby enhancing supply to the construction industry across NSW.

With roots dating back over a century in Grafton, Big River Group has traversed through three generations of the Pidcock family’s ownership before transitioning into a public entity listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX:BRI) in May 2017. This transition symbolises a century-long dedication and expansion within the region, now spanning operations across 26 sites in Australia and New Zealand.

The official opening of the Grafton operation today underscores the pivotal role of regional development and sustainable practices within the industry. It underscores the government’s steadfast commitment to bolstering industries crucial for recovery and growth in areas affected by bushfires, while promoting advancements in sustainable timber manufacturing and supply.

The upgrade, featuring the installation of state-of-the-art machinery, is poised to significantly augment Big River’s output. This enhancement equips Big River to supply an unprecedented volume of timber products throughout NSW each year, fostering growth in local and regional economies.

John Lorente, CEO of Big River Group, expresses his enthusiasm for the project’s culmination, stating, “This upgrade signifies not merely an expansion of our operational capacity, but a commitment to innovation, sustainability, and the future of the timber industry in NSW. With the backing of the Forestry Recovery Development Fund Program, we are positioned to make a profound impact on the availability of high-quality timber products, while also securing and creating jobs locally, regionally, and nationally.”

The upgrade is expected to generate 20 new jobs in Grafton, supplementing Big River’s existing local workforce and its 610 employees nationwide. This development underscores Big River’s enduring commitment to nurturing local talent through trainee and apprenticeship programs, and bolstering local businesses financially through logistics, warehousing, engineering supplies, and contracting services.

Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt, emphasises the government’s role in facilitating these critical developments, noting, “Big River Group’s Wagga Wagga plantation bore the brunt of the Black Summer Bushfires, but with substantial investment from both levels of Government, new machinery and equipment have been installed in the factory in Grafton, delivering a significant boost to the local community.”

Minister for Regional NSW, Tara Moriarty, echoes this sentiment, highlighting the project’s significance for local and regional communities. “Big River Group’s Grafton timber factory is experiencing robust growth, and it’s gratifying to see these upgrades support them in delivering high-quality timber products to the construction industry for years to come.”

Beyond supplying essential building products for the construction industry, Big River’s operations offer an array of decorative and architectural products, many of which are proudly manufactured in Grafton. This fusion of functionality and aesthetics, supported by a century-long legacy and a forward-looking ethos, positions Big River as a cornerstone in sustaining the architectural integrity and development of NSW, Australia, and New Zealand.

“As we unveil the latest upgrade to our Grafton facility, we perpetuate a tradition of excellence established over 100 years ago,” asserts John Lorente. “This project epitomizes more than just an expansion; it’s a tangible manifestation of our dedication to innovation, sustainability, and investment in the growth of our workforce. By augmenting our capacity to supply high-value timber products and investing in our team’s development, we uphold our century-long legacy and reinforce our commitment to ensuring a sustainable future for the timber industry in Australia.”

“We are immensely grateful for the support extended by both the Australian and NSW State Governments through the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund,” John From Big River Group concludes, expressing profound gratitude for the government’s invaluable support.

 

For more local Grafton news, click here.

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Grafton News

Westlawn Finance lending a hand to Our Kids in Grafton

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Westlawn Finance lending a hand to Our Kids in Grafton

Westlawn Finance lending a hand to Our Kids in Grafton

 

The Westlawn Finance and Insurance Charity Golf Day, held recently in Grafton, has raised $18,000 to help purchase a Telehealth Enable Cart and a portable Nitrous Oxide Machine for the Children’s Ward at Grafton Base Hospital.

Telehealth Enable Carts give doctors and nurses a fully mobile, ultra-high quality and secure telehealth solution that can be wheeled to any bed in the children’s ward, nursery or emergency department.

A Portable Nitrous Oxide Machine assists with light sedation when a medical procedure is required for our paediatric patients.

Our Kids is a self-funded trust whose auspice is the Northern NSW Local Health District. Our Kids aims to improve the health services for children in the Northern Rivers area.

Our Kids raises awareness and vital funds through local events and donations. With the funds raised, Our Kids works with the local medical team to purchase lifesaving medical equipment for children receiving care in hospitals in the Northern Rivers. This can include the Children’s Wards, Special Care Nursery and emergency departments in local hospitals.

Westlawn Finance lending a hand to Our Kids in Grafton

Dr Andrew Terrey, Geoff Scofield, Amanda Fryer and Mark Dougherty

Our Kids also issues annual Community Grants for families or organisations caring for children with special needs. These grants can be used to purchase equipment, medicine, and therapeutic items to help the children in their care.

Thanks to the generosity of local bequests, Our Kids has been able to set up educational funds for Continuous Education Scholarships for midwives, paediatric nurses, and allied health staff who work in our local hospitals.

“Thank you to Geoff Schofield, Mark Dougherty and the Westlawn Finance and Insurance team for organising such a magnificent day for Grafton and Our Kids,” Rebekka Battista, Our Kids Fundraising Coordinator, said.

“The telehealth enable cart and portable nitrous oxide machine will be a great addition to Grafton Base Hospital.”

If you would like to help Grafton Base Hospital, Children’s Ward and Special Care Nursery, please get in touch with Our Kids on info@ourkids.org.au.

 

For more health news, click here.

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