How digital technology helps Ipswich learn from experience – and put the past behind it

Ipswich City Council is using all means available to show the community that the sleaze and corruption that tainted its predecessor is no more, writes Craig Johnstone.

Oct 25, 2022, updated Oct 25, 2022
Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding says the people of Ipswich can now see how the council is making decisions. Photo: ABC

Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding says the people of Ipswich can now see how the council is making decisions. Photo: ABC

Like a lot of other things associated with Ipswich, it started out pretty well.

Nearly 30 years ago, the historic city got a jump on most other Australian communities by launching a home grown online hub for residents called Global Info-Links.

It was a genuine coup for Ipswich to understand the potential of the Internet in its infancy. But that potential was thwarted by local politics in a place where ambition and flim-flam would eventually contribute to a thoroughly rotten council regime that stained the city’s reputation.

Now, however, the goodwill and foresight that helped create Global Info-Links is on show again thanks to the current Ipswich Council and its mayor, Teresa Harding.

Harding sees digital technology as a tool to convince Ipswich residents that her administration is nothing like the one it replaced.

“I’m certainly a firm believer that data is a key enabler for all levels of government for better decision making,” she said.

“It might not be too flashy but it’s actually helping us day in and day out”.

Elected with a mandate to clean things up, Harding announced a transparency and integrity hub at her first meeting of council as mayor in April 2020.

Ipswich now provides details online of all its financial statements, reports to council, briefing papers, details contracts of $10,000 or more, even where its lawn mowing operations are.

Harding will outline hear council’s efforts to use digital technology to improve the council’s relations with the community at a Committee for Brisbane forum on Wednesday.

“I’m not saying we necessarily agree with everything (we publish) but at least people can see what we are being told and how we are being briefed,” she said.

“We’re not going to be right all the time – we’re not perfect – but I hope people can see what information we had at hand when we were making those decisions.”

Not only are full council meetings live streamed but committee meetings as well, a step beyond what is required under the Local Government Act.

Harding says the community feedback has been positive.

“Any council coming in after what happened was always going to confront the view that they were like all the others,” she said.

“I think it was important to use that crisis…to be very comfortable and open with government data.”

She says the council has received awards – including her 2021 McKinnon Prize for Political Leadership – recognising its efforts to improve transparency and accountability.

Other local governments, including the City of Darwin, Gympie Regional Council and Woollahra council in Sydney, have used Ipswich as a template for their own transparency reforms, she says.

“There’s nothing better than to give people surety and consistency of decision making,” she said.

Another area of difference from the previous council in terms of openness is the publication of Ipswich’s capital works program for the next three years, a move that Harding says will encourage local suppliers and provide council with enough data to show how it can help the city’s small businesses.

Harding will join urbanist and founder of the Smart Cities Council Adam Beck, managing partner at digital consultancy GWI Michelle Teis and others to discuss southeast Queensland’s digital challenges on Wednesday at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

For more information, contact the Committee for Brisbane.



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