‘A very important and influential body’
Ray West needed two attempts before he won support for the idea of what he predicted would ‘some day … certainly become a very important and influential body’.His first was in September 1929, when he sent a long letter to every municipal clerk in rural Victoria, proposing the formation of ‘a recognised institute’.
West, Town Clerk of the Borough of Shepparton, got answers – all positive – from about half of those to whom he had written, but he let the matter drop.
Victoria, like everywhere else in Australia, was on the brink of some very difficult times, as the Great Depression ravaged the national economy. Most municipal clerks had more to worry about than forming an institute.
Once more, with Determination
West had more success in April 1936, when he wrote again, this time to a selected audience, including metropolitan as well as rural municipal clerks. He drew enough positive responses for the Institute of Municipal Administration to be formed.
At the new body’s first Council meeting, in the Melbourne office of the Municipal Association of Victoria, at 7pm on 28 November 1936, Ray West was appointed President, John Gent and Frank Womersley Vice-Presidents, C. G. Hallum Secretary, and W. Thomas Treasurer.
For its first ten years, the Institute had enough to do in Victoria. Its two major preoccupations were membership and the journal, but it did also manage to deal with other business.
The Institute successfully persuaded the Government to make it obligatory upon Councils to obtain the Minister’s consent before amalgamating the positions of Secretary and Engineer, which they sometimes did to save money.
From its earliest days, the Institute had the ambition of publishing its own journal, in which it succeeded. It had also hoped that journal – 650 copies of 32 pages – would be self supporting. In that it struggled, with constant changes to the arrangements for getting the journal out.
At one stage, one of its aims was that ‘as far as practicable photographs of Shire Councillors throughout the State be featured in the journal’. Although the Institute had as its main objectives the support and professional development of local government officers, it always saw its work as relevant and of interest to councillors.
Other business that cropped up included attempts to publish The Guide to Municipal Officers, along with concern that all officers not covered by the proposed National Superannuation Scheme should have a scheme of their own. It also organised occasional social gatherings.
The Institute was barely three years old when the Second World War started. From 1939 to 1945, thoughts of its immediate progress were not high in members minds.
Once the war was over, it was time to think beyond Victoria.
‘Would it be too much to envisage the formation of a Commonwealth-wide Association or Institution of qualified Municipal Clerks?’ the Institute asked the Local Government Officers’ Association of South Australia by letter in December 1946.
That set in motion the three-year road to formation of the South Australian Division. Its Council met for the first time on 7 October 1949 and elected West Torrens Town Clerk Vernon Shepherd as its first President. The Local Government Officers’ Association of South Australia continued its separate existence until 1981, when it asked the Institute to take over its remaining responsibilities.
Brisbane Town Clerk Jim Slaughter led moves in Queensland to bring that State’s municipal officers into the Institute. This was accomplished on 20 August 1950, when Federal Council notified its approval of the Provisional Council as the Queensland Divisional Council. Slaughter became first Divisional President.
Western Australia followed, after Perth Town Clerk Alan Green convened a meeting on 20 October 1950, at which twenty-one people agreed unanimously to form a Division of the Institute in Western Australia. Green became first Divisional President.
Tasmanian Municipal Clerks talked about the idea for a year or so before they too decided at the Annual Conference of the Council Clerks’ Association in Hobart on 29 May 1951 to form a Division of the Institute. They elected Charles Henry of Glenorchy as first Divisional President.
While all the other States showed a willingness to form Divisions and join the fold, New South Wales stood alone.
New South Wales is Finally Persuaded
New South Wales Municipal Clerks already had a successful body, the Local Government Clerks’ Association of New South Wales. By the early 1950s, when the question of a close association with the Institute of Municipal Administration was being discussed, the New South Wales body had become a stormy force in defence of Clerks’ rights and betterment, an approach the Institute had been at pains to avoid.
It took time for the Institute of Municipal Administration and the Association in New South Wales to work out an accommodation, but they finally did. Contacts that began in 1947 firmed up in 1951, when the Association invited members of the Victorian Division to its Annual Conference in Sydney. That Conference agreed in principle to set up a New South Wales Division of the Institute, subject to the approval of its members either by referendum or at the next Annual Conference. The Association’s management committee opted for a referendum, in which members agreed by a very substantial majority to form a New South Wales Division of the Institute. The Association would continue its separate existence to represent Local Government Clerks in New South Wales in industrial matters.
All this cleared the way for New South Wales to affiliate with the Institute, making it a fully national body. The first Council meeting in which all states were present on an equal basis was in Adelaide in April 1953. The first President of an Institute that was fully national was Vernon Shepherd. Sydney-based Harold Drew became Federal Secretary.
A national body warranted a national journal. It first appeared, as Local Government Administration, in June 1957.
Debating the Institute’s Name, Future, and Structure
Proposals to rename the Institute cropped up often in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s. They began in 1959, when New South Wales moved unsuccessfully for a change to The Australian Institute of Town Clerks. South Australia tried in 1961, its proposal being Australian Society of Town Clerks. Argument raged until 1968, when a plebiscite settled the issue for the next fifteen years. Of the 1337 members who had ballot papers sent to them, 570 voted ‘no’ to any name change. Of the 540 who voted ‘yes’, 309 preferred Australian Society of Town Clerks to any of the other five names submitted.
The issue did not come up again until the 1983 Federal Conference in Adelaide, when it was agreed with a minimum of fuss to change the name from Institute of Municipal Administration to Institute of Municipal Management. The logo hardly changed at all, with an M replacing the A.
Debate did continue, however, on ‘the whole future and structure’ of the Institute. New South Wales raised the issue in 1966, largely because the Federal President’s 1965 Annual Report stated that income from the Divisions to the Federal body would have to be increased. He also said the Institute’s ‘whole future and structure’, at the ‘Federal level’, would have to be ‘reviewed’. New South Wales welcomed the review but not the increase. The Institute’s budgeted Federal costs for 1965-66 were $2738, to which individual members contributed $2.10 via their Divisional subscription.
Faced with hints of secession, Federal Council arranged for interstate members to attend the New South Wales Divisional Conference in 1967. New South Wales agreed to remain in the Institute.
Federal President Norm Allison developed proposals that led to reinvigoration of the Institute, a key item being the appointment of a Federal Secretary with a proper Secretariat, based in Melbourne.
In the 1970s, the Institute really began to operate as a national body, with a national symposium every second year, moves towards a uniform standard of admission, and support for Continuing Professional Development.
After talking about the idea for years, it held its first National Symposium, in Canberra, in May 1970. The Institute’s Patron, Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck, launched the three day event. A highlight among the speakers was Robert Thornton, Vice-President of the Society of Town Clerks of England and Wales and Town Clerk of the City of Leicester, whose visit was sponsored by the British Council. He came mainly for the symposium but he also spoke in Sydney and Melbourne and some Victorian provincial centres.
This first National Seminar set the pattern for what was to become a major event every second year. In time, it was to become an annual event.
A continuing question for the Institute in its first twenty years as a national body was the search for a uniform national standard of admission. The issue had implications wider than just the Institute, for the mobility of qualifications between states affected the job prospects of every municipal clerk in Australia.
One problem that faced the Federal Council Committee set up to handle ‘the reciprocity question’ was the need to upgrade the standard required of municipal clerks in Queensland. Not until 1979 was it possible to arrange full reciprocity between Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria.
Federal Council began to take an interest in Continuing Professional Development in 1980, when South Australian Division raised the subject. It took as its model the program being run by the Australian Society of Accountants. Designed to ensure that members kept abreast of rapid changes in matters affecting their profession, it provided that those who completed a recommended program of structured professional development over a period of three years would be issued with a certificate.
Branches began to revamp their regular meetings and to incorporate sessions that entitled members to Continuing Professional Development points. There was soon vigorous contention about whether points should be allowed for time spent in travelling to such sessions.
Eventually, the issue of Continuing Professional Development devolved to the Divisions. With people in Local Government less inclined to look on it as a lifetime career, there was less emphasis on education and professional development that was specific to the industry. Institute members were more disposed to look to broader qualifications, such as could be gained through universities, and which could be more widely adapted.
Widening the Focus
Just as Victoria gave rise to the formation of the Institute, it was the members from this State who in the early 1990s first moved on structural change. The Victorian Divisions of three national local government bodies – the Institute of Municipal Management, the Institute of Municipal Engineers Australia and the Community Services Association – combined their operations in 1995 to form a single association, which later became known as Local Government Professionals, or LGPro. The former joint National/Victorian Division Secretary became National Secretary only and in 1996 established an independent National Office.
Around this time, ambitious growth plans led the National body to the brink of financial collapse.
The groundwork for recovery took the form of a new Chief Executive Officer, an overhaul of commercial partnerships, and a one-off levy on members. From financial peril at the end of 1997, these reforms regained a solvent and viable position within three years. Along the way, the Institute adopted its third name since inception – Local Government Managers Australia. From a suggestion by a New South Wales member, and after extensive consultation with members, the name change was strongly supported as a more accurate title for the organisation at the beginning of the new millennium.
From Future Directions to Strategic Plan
The financial crisis had shown that the Institute needed a total review of its activities. The exercise was soon dubbed the Future Directions Project and launched soon after the Annual General Meeting in May 1998. Rather than trying to revamp the existing Corporate Plan, the project took a totally new look at all Institute activities. Members met all over Australia and provided input and feedback in various other forms. The results enabled the National Council to position itself to best serve the industry for the next decade.
One issue that arose was whether the National Office should be moved from Melbourne to Canberra. The ‘for’ and ‘against’ consideration being more or less even, it stayed in Melbourne.
By 2000, the National Council had consolidated the information from the Future Directions Project into a Strategic Plan with six program areas:
Professional Development, through education, training, and professional development
Information, through activities like the National Congress, Local Government Management magazine, and the web site
Standards, by the promotion of a Code of Ethics, the maintenance of appropriate membership criteria, and a formal professional development accreditation program
Member’s Support, with the organisation facilitating colleague mentoring and networking, and provide providing support on professional issues
External relations, with the Institute taking an active role on a national and international basis
Financial Management, with the Institute exercising responsible, possible, and accountable practices in the management of all funds and projects.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Institute steadily increased its international involvement.
Its work included a major research and workshop program for the Asian Development Bank in 1998, and a study tour/lecture series for visiting North Vietnamese officials on behalf of a United Nations agency. Several members undertook work in the Philippines and South Africa through LGMA’s international program. This activity complemented strong affiliations with like bodies in South Africa, New Zealand, the UK and the United States. A management exchange program and regular official visits added substance to these affiliations.
Having survived the testing period of the late 1990s, the six State Divisions and the national body forming the federation were now poised to redefine their relationship. They developed a new constitution that owed much to the organisation’s formative years. Due for discussion at the 2003 National Annual General Meeting, it would if adopted see the national body clearly defined as a creature of the State Divisions that formed it.