Lessons from TRILITY's work with the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council
Since September 2014, TRILITY, in partnership with the Queensland Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs (DLGRMA) and the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council (NPARC) has provided water supply services to five indigenous communities located about 1000 km north of Cairns, at the northern tip of Cape York in Far North Queensland.
The Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) water supply scheme includes the operations and maintenance of a raw water pump station on the banks of the Jardine River, two raw water transfer pipelines, an ultrafiltration membrane water treatment plant and treated water distribution and reticulation systems. The NPA comprises three aboriginal communities: Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon; and two Saibai Islander communities: Seisia and Bamaga.
TRILITY’S scope of work includes operating and maintaining the entire water supply system, as well as an extensive ongoing renewals program covering all scheme assets. TRILITY is responsible for meter reading at commercial and residential properties and also plays a key role in proactively managing water conservation in the communities, in partnership with NPARC and the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME).
In the five years that TRILITY has been operating in the NPA, it has experienced a broad range of challenges, particularly in relation to some of the realities that go hand-in-hand with running a 24/7 essential public service in such an isolated location.
These challenges include, but are not limited to:
- ensuring the safety of employees (remote working, local wildlife e.g. estuarine crocodiles);
- the logistics associated with transportation of goods such as process chemicals, spare parts and materials;
- emergency preparedness (cyclones, severe wet weather, floods, bushfires, heat and humidity);
- retention of appropriately skilled and qualified staff;
- cultural and community related issues; and
- engagement with a broad range of stakeholders.
With challenge comes opportunity, and over the years TRILITY has progressively found new and innovative ways to address the various challenges presented. Central to succeeding with any service or business are strong relationships built on collaboration and trust. Building a long-term partnership between TRILITY, the Queensland Government and NPARC has been key for all parties.
Since the beginning of its presence in the NPA, TRILITY has focused on local employment, training and proactive community engagement. It has a largely Indigenous workforce who it has progressively trained and developed to become some of the highest performing employees in the company.
Providing the right training, mentoring and support from the wider TRILITY business, as well as adapting HR practices to recognise some of the more sensitive cultural differences, has resulted in high staff engagement levels and positive staff retention figures.
Effective training has been achieved by embedding experienced TRILITY managers in the NPA, who have made a commitment to live in the community for extended periods to drive the mentoring program.
TRILITY has also undertaken successful community initiatives such as:
- installing irrigation at school and community ovals;
- sponsoring the local judo and youth club;
- supplying potable water to the airport;
- creating apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities;
- running a work experience program for Year 12 students;
- conducting school educational visits; and
- capacity building and providing a steady flow of work to local businesses, especially trades and engineering related services.
Community engagement across the five communities that TRILITY services has been fundamental to the success of the project to date and has been well received at all levels of state and local government.
TRILITY has effectively integrated into the community and the local supply chain and uses locally-based small businesses and contractors. Due to the remote nature of the NPA, TRILITY has had to develop and implement flexible ways of working with local businesses such as adapting its procurement systems and implementing mentoring and training plans to progressively raise standards in relation to safe systems of work, water treatment and safe drinking water quality practices.
One of the most rewarding aspects of TRILITY’s role in the NPA is the various education programs it has delivered through local schools. Each year students from the local high school visit the Bamaga Water Treatment Plant and this has now been embedded in the curriculum for all Year 7 students.
The purpose of the visits is to make students aware of how their community sources water, how water is treated and made safe to drink, and water conservation. Water conservation is a hot topic in the NPA, where the average daily consumption per person can sometimes be as high as 1,200 litres per person per day.
As part of this program they give each student an assignment where they have to read their water meters at home for one month and discuss water saving strategies with their family members, as well as encourage their family members to implement water conservation strategies. They then read their water meter for a second month and determine how much water has been saved. TRILITY invite the students back to the Bamaga WTP to present their findings, which also helps develop presentation skills and improve self-esteem.
Although TRILITY has been operating in the NPA for a number of years now and has learned many lessons, it is fair to say that TRILITY’s experience is very much a story of knowledge sharing and continuous improvement.
Every year throws up new challenges, particularly in relation to inclement weather, which can often be unpredictable in such an exposed location. Using technology to inform sound operational decision-making and to keep people safe has proven to be extremely beneficial.
Examples include implementing TRILITY’s integrated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for financial, asset and maintenance management, and its ‘In Vehicle Monitoring System’ (IVMS) to keep staff safe when travelling to isolated locations. However, these systems are not always reliable in isolated environments where telecommunications and electricity supplies can often be cut or are unreliable for extended periods, often days. Therefore, having reliable back up manual systems and effective communication plans is imperative in ensuring business continuity, a consistent safe supply of water to the community, and the safety of personnel and residents.
Engaging with the five communities and understanding their individual and collective needs has also been a key lesson for TRILITY and in particular gaining a strong understanding of their culture. TRILITY has achieved this understanding through cultural awareness training for management and non-Indigenous staff.
TRILITY employs a largely Indigenous workforce who are an integral part of the local community and understand the needs and expectations of the people. They engage with the broader community in relation to sensitive matters such as planned works that may temporarily impact continuity of their water supply. Moreover, they support local cultural events and initiatives such as environmental improvement projects and water conservation.
Overall TRILITY’s experiences have been really positive, and this project demonstrates that effective public and private partnering can be a real success story and provide a range of positive outcomes for regional and remote communities, as well as for the organisations involved.