The Structure and Role of Local Governments in Australia


Australia has three systems of government, each of which is comprised of politicians who are elected by the community to represent their opinions. Federal, which controls Australia, state, which controls its respective state or territory, and local, which controls its suburb or in some cases, multiple suburbs. In this essay I will explain how our local government system works.

Local governments are comprised of local councils. Councils are constituted to be elected by the community in the form of councillors for their defined regional area.

Each property owner and commercial operator is entitled, but not compelled, to vote for the councillor they want to represent their needs. Some councils are divided into wards, with each ward being represented by one or more councillors. Other councils may use the system of the whole council area being represented by a larger number of councillors, usually 10-15 councillors. Some councils have their mayor elected separately by the community, while others have the mayor elected in council, by councillors.

All councils are affiliated with the Local Government Association (LGA). The LGA has an Executive Council Committee, whose members are elected by the affiliated councils. The Mayor usually officiates at full council meetings. All council members have the power to vote at council meetings. The Mayor usually has a discretionary vote if required.

Local Government is concerned with matters close to our home. Local government controls planning, community services, capital works etc. and prepares the financial budget each year to cover the costs of operating and capital works.

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If necessary councils can borrow funds for ongoing works. All rated properties within the council areas are required to pay council rates according to the value of their property.

Local government must approve of all development including industrial buildings, residential housing, street layouts and tree planting within the road reserve, according to the council Planning and Development policies. These types of development are usually referred to as Works Programs.

Local government provides community services in accordance with the needs of the community. These may include libraries, child-care, facilities for community groups to meet, home assists persons, in addition to recreational areas for sporting activities eg. football, soccer, cricket, baseball, netball grounds. Some councils may provide the swimming community and clubs with a variety of swimming and wading pools. These clubs usually pay an annual fee for the use of these facilities. Playgrounds and reserves have a high priority in most councils for the use of the young and elderly residents.

Each council has a responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of their residents is provided at the appropriate standard. Councils are required to maintain the maintenance of roads, footpaths, and tree margins in accordance with standards related to safety and welfare requirements. Traffic management, which includes street signage, speed controls and parking facilities, are a prime factor in council management. Parking inspectors and traffic planning officers are involved in these management programs.

Councils usually have to budget over the long term for major capital works, which may include new or upgrading the official council chambers. Council employees include planners, engineers, accountants, administrative staff and general works personnel. Council Depots are usually established within a council area for the works personnel to operate from.

Councils are usually elected for a period of 4 or 5 years, in accordance with the Local Government Act. All council administration must be conducted in accordance with this Act, and are audited as prescribed.

The State Government elects a Minister for Local Government and a department to ensure the requirements of the Act are being met, by all councils. Local Government was introduced in South Australia in the 1850’s. During the 90’s amalgamations of many councils resulted in considerable reduction of the numbers of local government councils eg. Port Adelaide-Enfield. These amalgamations are in continual review to ensure effective and efficient management procedures are implemented, for the benefit of the communities.

Local government through consultation procedures and auditing by appropriate state authorities has proved of great benefit to the various communities throughout this state of South Australia.

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The Structure and Role of Local Governments in Australia. (2022, May 10). Retrieved from

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