President’s Column: 8 February 2019

Should there be consistency of Local Government Acts across states and territories in Australia?

I had the opportunity last week to speak at the WALGA Future of Local Government State-wide Forum and offer a possible answer to this question by looking at Local Government Act trends in Australia.

Local government is a creature of the states and territories, so there is no Federal Local Government Act, and perhaps rightly so. Councils serve their local communities and there is a world of difference between local issues and local governance, and national responsibilities and the Federal Government based in Canberra.

Although having a single system of local government administered from Canberra would be unlikely to add value, I believe we should still strive for a level of consistency across the different states and territories in terms of the quality and scope of local administration. There is a great deal of similarity between our communities in terms of their values, aspirations and expectations, particularly with respect to governance, and therefore I think the way our system of local government operates and responds to community needs could substantially benefit from being similar across jurisdictions.

And we’re not far off.

Although there are some differences between jurisdictions in terms of the services councils deliver and the roles of Mayors and councillors, let alone how they are elected and remunerated, generally all of our councils follow a common formula and the Local Government Acts which establish them also follow a recognisable structure and direction, which provides a sufficient starting point.

With each and every state and territory Local Government Act having undergone reforms or review in recent times – sometimes driven by practice but increasingly by populism – there is an opportunity to take the lessons learned from those processes and, moving forward, consider the totality of the relationship between local government and other governments when looking at reform.

Just imagine if we could work together to incorporate the best and most efficient aspects of each other’s legislation, and avoid or delete the worst. Imagine if we were given the task of writing our own legislation instead of having it imposed upon us in response to political whims or populist ignorance. Wouldn’t it be terrific if our legislation was more enabling and less prescriptive – even silent – in some areas so we had the freedom to respond to new and emerging needs in ways our communities want and were prepared to fund?

Victoria is awaiting the outcome of their recent and wide-ranging review, delayed due to the recent state elections, however it is WA that currently has the golden opportunity to write a new Act based on first principles and the best they can garner from other Australian Acts and possibly from other commonwealth nations too.

We wish them well, and we’ll all be watching with great interest!

Our thoughts and best wishes are also with our colleagues and the community of Townsville as the water recedes from record floods and the enormity of the clean up task emerges. It is said that floods are the worst form of natural disaster, inundating almost everything, leaving mud and debris on a scale that is hard to imagine – this one has already resulted in hundreds of homes being written off. If you can help with the recovery operation, or stock feed, or money, then pick up the phone. You know they’d be there for you if your community needed help.

Keep up the great work,

Mayor David O’Loughlin

ALGA President