Taree born Neil Hannington is a quiet, unassuming man who has a reputation for getting things done. In his career spanning 40 years, he has been a leader and innovator overseeing great change in the delivery of energy and water supplies to the region. As the General Manager of Mid Coast Water he tells of the challenges and triumphs along the way.
What was your first role after High School?
In 1965 I entered local government as a clerk.
> You have a long work history in utilities. When did it begin?
In 1970, when the Manning River County Council amalgamated with Oxley and Macleay Electricity, becoming North Power.
> How has your career progressed?
Between 1980 and 1995 I was moving up the chain of responsibility to eventually be appointed District Manager of Manning, Great Lakes and Gloucester Energy.
> There have been many changes in utilities supply over the past few decades. What brought about all the changes?
Structural changes came about due to State Government policy. It continued in 1995 when I joined Mid Coast Water, which saw more changes. On the 1st July 1997 Mid Coast Waste (a division of North Power) and the Water and Sewerage Divisions of Greater Taree City and Great Lakes Council all amalgamated.
> Did your role change during that time?
I was appointed acting General Manager.
> Was it an easy transition for Mid Coast Water?
No way! The first challenge was I had six weeks to prepare a management plan to commence the new organisation. It started with ninety three staff and only three in the office. I had to draw all information from the three divisions to start a new one.
> What were some of the problems you had to address?
The main issue was to establish a centralised centre for the control of water and sewer. We had to operate under the then Government act; if we did not present an acceptable model, then the other option was to join the Hunter Region.
We had to establish one operating system, as we inherited three billing systems, and then we had a few staff problems, as they were not happy about the new organisation. Also, we had a huge debt to service.
> Eventually all the hard work has paid off?
Yes. It has had a few hiccups, but overall it has moulded well. Today we have fantastic staff; they are the main personnel, not me. They keep it ticking over.
Since Mid Coast Water began, it has grown to be one of the biggest in regional NSW.
We are one of the largest water utility companies. We supply 11 billion litres of water a year to 35,000 households spread over 7,000 square kilometres.
Also, we are one of the largest contributors to Water Aid Australia; we contributed $215,000 last year with direct support. Water Aid Australia is an international aid agency dedicated to empowering poorer communities to secure water for life.
> Is Mid Coast Water set to expand further?
An inquiry found we are well placed to grow and manage a larger organisation. Currently, the Government is looking at reducing the number across the state. It has to be streamlined and could be reduced to as low as 14 organisations, so we will see much amalgamation.
> Mid Coast Water has introduced several inventions to the industry …
We are willing to share our new inventions; we invented the plastic manhole cover, which is now in full production and will be distributed Australia and worldwide.
The latest is the GIS (Global Special Information Systems). It is a data collection system using a mapping system – this will be adopted Australia wide also.
> How will the economic climate affect jobs in the organisation and its future works?
We have streamlined operations and have multi skilled office staff that do all the work. I do not have secretary; we have a typing pool, and our call centre is manned 24 hours, seven days a week locally by our staff.
Our works programs are strongly supporting local contractors and suppliers, which has proved to be cost effective.
> Have you have kept Mid Coast Water local and community oriented for a reason?
Our focus is to provide the best possible service and to give back when we can. We have a community fund that supports a wide and varied range of projects, sporting and other clubs. Each year Mid Coast Water shares a pool of about $40,000.
Plus, we also assist community groups with a marquee for community events, Mid Coast Water poster display boards or banners, bottles of filtered water and have our staff provide community education or promotional activities like our Whizzy the Waterdrop character.
> Many changes have occurred in the environmental area, with new laws being considered. Is Mid Coast Water prepared?
We are very conscious of the carbon footprint and offsets. Our aim is to be carbon neutral. We have had a tree planting program for many years and are very meticulous in not damaging the environment. Water saving has been a big issue, and we are contributing heavily. Our projects have seen a major reduction in usage, exceeding our projected targets.
> How do you see the future for MCW?
It is very positive. We have many sewerage schemes to begin and we hope to have most of our area under sewer in the future; it all depends on funding as to how quickly we can do this. The current economic climate is a worry. Some of our investments have lost ground, which has caused a revision of budgets for next financial year.
The strategic plan from the Government is now in place, and as the urban population takes advantage of our great coastline and environment, we will see our services expanded. We are also conscious of the catchment issues and the grants to farmers.
> How do you spend your leisure time?
When you start an organisation from scratch, you learn to find time to relax away from all the business problems. With my wife, Lola we have a daughter and a grandson – they give me enjoyment. Lola and I enjoy bush walking. I played Rugby League and squash years ago, and I have supported the St George Dragons for more than 40 years. I started collecting stamps at an early age, it’s a collection that continues to grow. At the moment I have over 65,000 stamps. Also, I have an involvement with the Manning Uniting Church administration team.
> Any plans to retire?
Been thinking about it, but I will be around for a few years. My life is very good at work and home, and I am enjoying myself.
> Thank you Neil.