Time to take stock of metropolitan governance: ALGA

Australia’s cities have become like a patchwork of local communities over the past 12 months while experiencing low growth rates, making this an ideal time to review our metropolitan governance structures.

Appearing at a webinar discussing new research into the role of local government engagement and coordination in metropolitan governance, Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) Senior Policy Officer Liz de Chastel said the Covid pandemic had underlined he importance and value of “localism”.

People were spending more time in their local neighbourhoods, shops, and local parks, a trend quickly given full local government support. Councils had also invested heavily in supporting local businesses and people at risk.

However, changes to planning legislation in 2020 – supported by councils – had tended to diminish input and decision-making from local communities, Ms de Chastel said.

“Metropolitan governance debates are nothing new, but the new Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) research comes at a point in time when collectively we are pausing and potentially are open to doing things differently in our cities,” she said. 

“From a local government perspective, I think one of the main challenges is not why, but what is needed to change for the local voice to reassert itself at the metropolitan level of planning.”

Ms de Chastel said opportunities for local government in metropolitan governance derived from the fact that councils:

  • Have a proven track record of working effectively in formal or informal partnerships with other levels of governments;
  • Recognise that coordination and partnerships across all levels of governments, community, and the business sector deliver the best outcomes for our metropolitan cities;
  • Know first-hand what targeted investments, support mechanisms, and interventions will enable their local communities to grow and prosper.

However, local government is also grappling with on-going challenges, Ms de Chastel said, including National Cabinet’s failure to include ALGA in its decision-making.

“Our Board is actively committed to reversing [this], not least because all our governments need to be working closely together to support job growth and enable economic recovery,” she said.  

Declining local government revenue streams, including from state-imposed rate capping, the need to provide relief from rates and other fees and charges during the pandemic, and increasing demand for local services, were other challenges the sector faces.

Appearing alongside Ms de Chastel in the webinar was lead researcher Professor Andrew Butt (RMIT). Click here to view the webinar.