Enhancing the quality of life for all Queensland communities


Leigh Cunningham, IPWEAQ CEO


Leigh Cunningham is a lawyer with a career as a senior executive for a number of public companies in Australia and global companies headquartered in Singapore where she lived for 12 years. Prior to returning to Australia to take up her current position as CEO for the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia, Queensland (IPWEAQ), Leigh was the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Association of Independent Authors and previously, Director Finance & Operations, Asia for Worldtrade Management Services (a business unit of PricewaterhouseCoopers). 

Leigh has 24 years’ experience in membership organisations including as the CEO for the Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators, Australia and concurrently as the Secretary-General for the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, and as the Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Project Management.

Leigh has three master’s degrees in law, commerce and an MBA where she graduated as ‘Top Student’. She is also the author of four multi award-winning books.

CEO's Report
June 2017

The Queensland Audit Office’s (QAO) reports 2 and 13 for 2016-2017 raised questions regarding the long-term financial sustainability of local governments across Queensland. An inquiry was initiated by the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee and IPWEAQ has made a submission.

The substance of our submission was to link the declining sustainability of local councils with the demise of the role of Chief Engineer within councils. With a focus on financial imperatives over the last decade, this position has disappeared from many councils or has been relegated to less than ‘C level’ in many other councils. This has led to some councils making poor investment decisions with regard to major infrastructure which then impacts on constituents across generations.

Asset management is a critical aspect of the role of councils yet in many councils, engineers are not involved in the decision-making process including procurement decisions. Such decisions cannot be relegated to administrators or financial personnel or elected officials who could not be expected to understand the long-term financial implications of engineering-related decisions.

Councils’ commitment then to their engineers’ ongoing professional development – including registration as an RPEQ – ensures best practices in asset management and maintenance continues to deliver sustainable financial outcomes.

We appreciate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and councils, particularly smaller isolated councils continue to struggle with limited resources.  However, we do believe that some investment now in skilled, professional technical people at a local level will deliver longer-term benefits and financial sustainability for councils. We also believe in the continuing decentralisation of engineering services which delivers the following benefits for councils and communities: 

  • Local knowledge/wisdom is retained within the community that it serves – it is not possible to capture all knowledge in a centralised electronic database.
  • There is a higher level of commitment, ownership, responsibility and accountability when locally-based or home-grown engineers are responsible for engineering decisions for their communities.
  • Local government public works offers a career path for those wishing to work in regional areas. Career days at local schools offer an opportunity for public works engineers to inspire the next generation.
  • Communities benefit from the local presence of their engineers and their families with involvement at schools, sports and other community groups. Public works engineers tend to have a strong sense of community; it is fundamental to their roles.
  • Regional councils offer a fertile training ground for young, graduate engineers who are able to get involved with construction, maintenance, the use of local materials, engage with local contractors etc. They’re also likely to gain a better understanding of non-engineering tasks, working closely with other council employees, and the impact of asset management decisions on their communities.

One of the pivotal roles of IPWEAQ is to support the network of local government engineers and technical officers within a collegiate environment. This occurs at our branch and state conferences where delegates not only learn from each other’s experiences but also develop their technical and soft skills. Other than connecting with others at our forthcoming courses and workshops, there are opportunities for you to connect at Longreach, 6-7 September 2017 for the Western Roads Symposium then Townsville, 24-26 October for the state conference. Be sure to register early for a possible 16 CPD hours. If you were unable to attend the successful 2016 state conference, 12.5 CPD hours are available listening to the podcasts with the accompanying PowerPoint presentations.

I look forward to seeing you in Townsville!

Leigh Cunningham
Chief Executive Officer