2019-20 has indeed been a busy and challenging year. The Jervis Bay Territory was lucky enough to escape the devastating December and January bushfires so close to our borders however it was a very stressful time for all residents, with fires only a few kilometers away and at one point threatening to jump from Sussex Inlet into the Booderee National Park. The National Park and Wreck Bay Fire Brigades excelled themselves at home and away. WBACC learned lessons about the need for a Wreck Bay Village Emergency Management and Evacuation Plan (the plan at the time was wrapped up in a outdated JBT Plan) and the need for targeted communication to village residents. Since the fires, WBACC has engaged consultants to develop a WBACC Emergency Management Plan and is currently consulting on the plan and organising an exercise later in the 2020 calendar year.
The closure of the National Park due to the bushfires had a significant impact on the Park's, and therefore WBACC's income. Workers who were not able to work due to the Park's closure were redirected to activities within the village, many related to fire preparation. WBACC also took on traffic management work for the Park to maintain employment levels and ensure visitors did not enter the park in such dangerous times.
After a short period of recovery and increased tourist numbers back into the Park, March saw the closure of the Park again by order of the Director of National Parks, following the COVID-19 outbreak.
WBACC had enacted its COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan in mid march, which required staff who were able to work from home to work from home. This was a challenge for WBACC and its staff, practically and culturally. Our computer hardware at that point was outdated with one laptop only. Luckily we were able to secure laptops and have them configured in a short period of time so that the majority of administrative staff could perform their duties at home. The concept of working from home was alien to many staff and this did cause some teething problems, with some staff returning to the physical workplace with careful attention to social distancing. Most community services continued. Limited Centrelink services, delivery of mail, development of community newsletters, scholarship application processes, elders payments etc still happened, although at times it was a challenge to communicate this to community members. Some online training sessions and community mailouts helped, however overall working from home was a challenge for all of WBACC, despite higher levels of productivity for Senior Management and administrative staff working from home and involved in the production of documentation.
Our daycare staff used the closure of the centre to do some important online training. Day Care staff became our go to staff for organising food and essential item deliveries to community members to alleviate the need for the vulnerable community to visit the shops. So many charities provided goods for distribution to Wreck Bay and Jervis Bay however the Park closure meant that thy could not deliver, so this became a task for WBACC staff.
Of course, many of WBACC's staff were unable to work from home because of the nature of their work, which is maintaining the National Park. WBACC worked with Park's management to ensure ongoing employment for staff and income for WBACC. We came up with projects to replace work lost (mainly cleaning work not required when tourists were not coming) and projects which were easier completed when the Park was shut but would improve the Park to attract tourists into the future.
It was great seeing WBACC and BNP staff working together on projects that included re-painting, cleaning and repairs for entry station booths; re-landscaping of gardens beds; installation of six new flag poles and banners at the entry station; new line markings, road signage and speed humps.
Work was also done to deal with damage to the Botanic Gardens rainforest which was caused by wind and mass bat relocations due to bushfires; new concreted mulch bins for the botanic gardens; extensive refurbishment of Bristol Point campground; paths, walking tracks, boardwalks and bridges repaired across the park.
These good examples of Parks and WBACC staff working together were an excellent pre-empting of the announcements made at the end of the financial year in relation to the Caring for Country Rangers Program and the funding of a new Visitors/Cultural Centre. These projects require collaboration and cohesion amongst the two workforces. Our organisations are intending to hold workshops early in the new financial year to jointly plan for these programs.
WBACC continues to offer employment opportunities to registered members, with a new Cultural Heritage Officer , Grants Officer and HR/ Daycare Trainee appointed and nine new positions (1 supervisor and 8 trainee rangers in the Caring for Country Rangers program) announced this year. School based apprenticeships continued for the second year of a two year program, with our civil construction and daycare school based apprentices to graduate later this calendar year. New SBAT opportunities are currently being arranged for the new financial year.
We were sorry to say goodbye to our long terms Community Engagement Officer, Aunty Wendy Brown, who retired this year after over 20 years of service to the Community.
Community services provided to Wreck Bay Council registered members have continued to expand, with the establishment of a homework centre and school holiday program and the continued development of the community veggie garden. The financial year kicked off with another fantastic NAIDOC week and Christmas saw a Christmas lunch for elders.
Unfortunately the planned Christmas party for community kids had to be cancelled due to the bush fires. However the Wreck Bay Fire Brigade made a special effort on Christmas day, and Santa still made it to Wreck Bay despite the fires.
I approved two small business grants for a clothing design and manufacture business and a tree management business and six applications for higher education assistance during the 2019-20 year, with courses ranging from bachelor of arts to bachelor of psychology, and a postgraduate degree. Tertiary education of the community’s young people is an important component in the progress towards community and business development and the Board and I am hopeful that these students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, that qualifications and skills will be brought back for the benefit of the community and that registered members who the Council helped to educate will be sitting in positions of influence in government and the private sector beyond the JBT.
Funding Grants and other income
Council received quarterly instalments of the annual lease payment from the Director of National Parks and a 25% share of entry and camping fees from Booderee National Park (although camping was severely impacted by bush fires and COVID). The funding is used for provision of community services and other outcomes beneficial to registered members. The leasing arrangements between Council and the Director of National Parks will be re-negotiated in September 2020.
WBACC continues its strong relationship with NIAA and the Department of Education. The grant funds provided form the basis for many of the important programs WBACC runs and undoubtedly contribute to the wellbeing of WBACC registered members.
Discussions within the Council organisation this year have gravitated towards the development of new revenue streams to supplement, and ultimately supersede grant monies. Whilst it is recognised that this is a long term proposition, small steps have been taken towards examining potential business opportunities. This year WBACC successfully quoted for horticulture work for the Department of Defence and capital works for Parks Australia. WBACC also took on a contract for management of the ACT Sports Grants Program.
Council was lucky enough this year to receive special grants to assist with some office improvements (a new kitchen, flooring and air conditioning) and a community cleanup. These small grants made a huge difference to the wellbeing of staff and community.
Whilst the Economic Development sub-committee, like all sub-committees, was unable to meet for several months due to COVID, work continued on the development of a proposal to establish some tourist ventures in the national park. These will be presented to the Board later in the calendar year.
The Contract Services division of Council currently contributes approximately 40% of total revenue. Contracts are held with Parks Australia, the Department of infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Cities and Centrelink and NIAA.
I reported in last year's annual report that in April 2019, WBACC signed a five year head agreement with Parks Australia. The head agreement attaches five service level agreements (for entry station, grounds maintenance, infrastructure, cleaning and roads and trail upkeep) which have an initial one year term. At the end of that term, longer term four year SLAs were planned to be signed. Unfortunately, COVID prevented the finalisation of the four year agreements, related to the delivery of the federal budget being moved to October. The SLAs were instead extended on the same terms (with the application of CPI) and will be renegotiated and executed in October. Importantly, the 2019-20 agreement included a WHS Capacity Building Payment. WBACC used that money to deal with asbestos issues in some of our leased buildings, conduct a chemical cleanup of our sheds, cover an old mechanics pit and make improvements against other Corrective Actions identified in a COMCARE audit.
Contracts with DITRDC, for road infrastructure, line marking, grounds maintenance and building maintenance and repair work on DITRDC owned houses in Jervis Bay Village have run quite smoothly. An extension to the main agreement was signed in June 2020. The agreement was intended to be fully re-negotiated, with the addition of some new grounds maintenance work currently let to Shoalhaven City Council by this time, however the delay of the federal budget also affected this contract. The new agreement will be presented for execution in October.
As a commonwealth corporate entity, WBACC is required to adhere to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (“PGPA” Act). The Executive Committee is defined as the ‘accountable authority’ and is responsible for the preparation and content of the annual report.
WBACC is bound by the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines. During this reporting period, I have no knowledge of evidence relating to fraud within the organisation. In addition, I am of the honest and reasonable belief that appropriate and necessary measures operate to ensure fraud is minimised.
I undertake to adhere to the strict legal obligation placed upon me in the event of fraud. Suspected fraud matters will be reported to the appropriate authorities for possible prosecution.
The immediate future will be dominated by WBACC’s home ownership implementation strategy. This is a five year plan of extensive work on village infrastructure and housing, in tandem with survey work to define lots and register title, legal work to develop leases and community skills development in the benefits and responsibilities of home ownership.
Effective Communication with Registered Members continues to be a challenge for WBACC. Various methods of communication are employed, including hard copy, on-line, emails and face to face - both group and individual meetings, however WBACC recognises that there is still a way to go. In this coming year, Council intends to hold more community meetings on various issues to improve two way communication with the community.
Longer term, sole management of Booderee National Park is the ultimate aim of the Wreck Bay community and this organisation. It is a long term goal, and formulating the strategy to reach it poses many complexities. In the coming year, the WBACC Board will build on work done this year to strengthen relationships will be working with Parks Australia and a consultant in order to design a road map to sole management. This will form the basis for our corporate planning in the coming years.
On the business front, WBACC will be introducing the Sharepoint data management system as soon as the NBN is switched on (hopefully mid September 2020) as well as an automated time management system.
I look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead. I am thankful to the Board, staff and registered members for continuing to support me in the role of CEO and for the privilege of working in this beautiful place.