‘Rates, Roads and Rubbish’ was a catch-cry I heard frequently when I was elected to Local Government 15 years ago. This ‘Roads Boards’ viewpoint was not appropriate then, and is certainly not fit-for-purpose for Western Australian
communities in 2020 and into the future.
Since the 1995 Act was proclaimed, our society and the technologies we use continue to change at an unstoppable pace, and with this change, community needs and expectations of local government are also increasing. These demands on the sector will continue
to expand, especially in the aftermath of, and recovery from, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recommendations in this review are a road-map to more agile and inclusive local governments, with a clear purpose to deliver for the enhanced wellbeing of their communities. A new legislative framework that ensures community consultation and integrated
planning is a centrepiece of a local government’s operations, as well as an emphasis on regional and intergovernmental collaboration.
The recommended renewed focus on integrity, self-regulation and accountability will give local governments the tools to ensure good governance and continuous improvement.
An Act based on this report would prepare local governments in Western Australia not just for the challenges of today, or the next few years, but for the long-term, and would put them in good stead to continue to foster healthy, connected and engaged
Thank you to the many contributors to this report, including those in the sector and community who made a submission or otherwise assisted in the process.
I especially thank panel members for their significant individual contributions, as well as the secretariat at the Department who supported the panel with high quality research and assistance, as without their diligence, this report would not have been
David Michael MLAChair
In 2017 the McGowan Government announced a review of the Local Government Act 1995. This is the most significant and comprehensive reform of local government legislation conducted in more than two decades. The objective is for Western Australia to have a new, modern Act that empowers local governments to better deliver for the community. The vision is for local governments to be agile, smart and inclusive.
Given the breadth of matters covered by the Local Government Act, a staged approach to the review has been adopted:
The majority of the stage one priority reforms are now in place following the passage of the Local Government Legislation Amendment Act 2019. These reforms include:
The remaining priority reforms which are expected to be implemented later this year include:
Extensive community consultation was conducted on stage two topics between September 2018 and March 2019 by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (the Department) with the input of a stakeholder reference group.
More than 3,000 survey responses and written submissions were received from community members, ratepayer associations, industry groups, local governments, elected members, and peak bodies.
After this significant community and sector consultation to better understand the issues confronting local government, the areas in need of reform and possible options for reform, a panel of experts was formed to provide more detailed consideration and to develop policy responses to guide the development of the new Act. The role of the Panel was to guide the review’s strategic direction and to consider and recommend high level guiding principles of the new Act.
The members of the Panel are:
Commencing in November 2019, the Panel formally met on nine occasions. In addition, invitations were extended to a range of organisations to provide advice and test ideas at separate roundtables.
It should be noted that an overwhelming majority of recommendations were agreed to unanimously by all members of the panel, with only a small number either having a minority of panellists expressing an opposing view or excluding themselves due to a potential conflict of interest.
Meetings were structured around the following six broad topic areas:
This report reflects the work of the Panel. It is divided into two sections: Part A provides the strategic overarching direction, with Part B outlining the Panel’s detailed recommendations within that framework.
The Minister asked the Panel members to consider and recommend overarching, high-level directions for local government that would flow into policies and principles to guide the development of a ‘new’ Local Government Act. This Part of the Panel’s report sets out a strategic framework for the new Act that addresses not only the underlying issues identified when the Panel began its work, but crucially the emerging imperatives that flow from the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath.
When the Western Australia Government launched the Local Government Act Review its objectives were to produce ‘a new, modern Act that empowers local governments to better deliver for the community’, and that local government should be ‘Agile, Smart and Inclusive’. Those objectives remain valid, but there is now also the question of how they can and should be pursued in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Western Australia’s system of local government has remained largely unchanged for several decades. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, local governments demonstrated the full spectrum of capacities and behaviours, ranging from outstanding to good, to average, to, in a few cases, poor. This is not surprising given the very large number of local governments and their variable size and capacity. Many have responded positively and swiftly to the crisis with initiatives to support local communities and businesses – through rate freezes, waiving of fees, increased flexibility in dealing with planning applications, and so on – complementing the State government’s initiatives. However, the crisis has also highlighted the system’s limited capacity, sustainability and resilience. Rather than being a crucial and reliable source of support to communities, many local governments themselves require considerable funding from other levels of government simply to perform their basic statutory obligations and keep their operations running, rather than to expand services.
Having numerous local governments, including a majority that are small in terms of population and/or area and that lack financial and human resources, also makes the system cumbersome and costly to operate. In addition to financial support, local government requires significant State Government resources for oversight, advice, capacity building and regulation, including interventions to ensure good governance.
Further areas of concern are the generally low levels of community participation and regional cooperation. Local government should be truly the level of government ‘closest to the people’, but the system of voluntary, first-past-the-post voting attracts only a low turnout at elections, and the extent to which many councils can be considered to be properly representative of their diverse communities can be questioned. At the same time, only limited use is being made of opportunities for local governments to share information, skills and resources at a regional level, and to undertake collaborative planning and service delivery.
So, can local government in Western Australia ‘better deliver for the community’ without fundamental change? Is it sufficient for councils simply to perform their current functions more efficiently and effectively? What sort of local government will be needed to tackle a slow and fragile post-COVID-19 recovery and to play a valued ongoing role in advancing community wellbeing and regional development?
The Panel’s view is that the new Act must address these questions and underpin a program of systemic reform to ensure that local government can meet the needs of communities in what may well be a very different operating environment. The Act itself must be truly renewed. It should look and feel different, ‘tell the story’ of change, and outline a fresh agenda. The Panel’s package of key reforms is set out below.
Local Government Acts are among the most lengthy and complex pieces of legislation in any jurisdiction. As a result, their strategic intent and important linkages between different sections of the Act can easily be lost in the mass of detail. Currently the 1995 Western Australia Act and Regulations run to more than 700 pages, while there are also elements of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1960 that are still operational.
Some jurisdictions have tackled this problem by having multiple Acts: Queensland has a separate Electoral Act; New Zealand has a separate Rating Act; British Columbia has a ‘Community Charter’ that deals with key elements of local democracy and complements the Local Government Act.
So, what should a new Western Australian Act look like? How can it ‘tell a story’ rather than swamp the reader (and the sector) with a torrent of regulatory detail? The Panel proposes the following:
The current direction of the review, reflected in the initial instructions to the Panel, is for a complete re-write of the existing Local Government Act. However, experience in other States indicates that will require more resources than appear available
at present and take a very long time, and that bold new directions may get lost along the way. The Panel is therefore of the view that the Government’s objectives could best be achieved by developing the new Act in two stages, focusing first
on a limited number of strategic elements (such as overarching principles, building the sector’s capacity, Integrated Planning and Reporting (IPR), and enhanced accountability), while leaving matters of operational detail (a number of which
require further investigation) until later.
The Panel also believes that the Government needs to legislate as soon as possible in order to strengthen local government’s capacity for the post-COVID-19 recovery and likely ongoing changes in its operating environment. While it appreciates that
resources are currently focused on short-term responses to the impact of COVID-19, the Panel’s assessment is that a substantial package of strategic changes to the Local Government Act is required within months, not years. This could be done
in one of three ways:
The decision on how to proceed is of course one for Government and will depend on several factors including other Parliamentary priorities. On balance, the Panel favours options (b) or (c), which most decisively reflect the Government’s commitment
to produce a ‘new’ Act – something that ‘looks and feels’ different. The risk with option (a) is that it could become too complex and might boil down to just a series of amendments scattered through hundreds of pages
of existing provisions, without clearly setting out a fresh agenda. This is what happened after the 2013 review in New South Wales.
The critical high-level elements of the legislative package proposed by the Panel are detailed below. These elements need to be drafted and juxtaposed in a new or restructured Act or Acts in such a way that the inter-relationships between them are made
clear. In several instances supportive policy statements will be essential to convey fully Government’s intentions.
The basis for this recommendation was explained in Part A. The Panel considers it essential to move decisively and as quickly as possible to strengthen the capacity and resilience of Western Australian local government, and to set a fresh agenda, particularly
in light of the COVID-19 crisis and its likely aftermath.
It was determined that the vision for local government included in a new Act should be responsive to the changing face of Western Australia’s communities. The long title of a legislative instrument is intended to provide a clear statement of the
legislature's intention. The Panel considered how a statement of intent (vision) for a local government legislative framework would meet the future needs of Western Australia’s communities and local government sector.
The Panel considered what the objectives for a legislative framework would be to support local governments having the agility, adaptability and flexibility to respond to changing community expectations and technology, and deliver long-term sustainability.
In doing so, the Panel considered examples from across Australian jurisdictions and international best practice.
The Panel endorsed the Western Australian Local Government Association’s (WALGA) call for a principles-based approach to the development of a new legislative framework.
This approach needs to be supported by robust processes for planning and decision-making, as well as model charters, guidelines and templates to set appropriate standards in areas such as establishment of subsidiaries, community engagement and local laws.
An enhanced internal audit and reporting regime is also essential to promote effective self-regulation and greater accountability to local communities (refer to Recommendation 59 regarding Audit, Risk and Improvement Committees).
The Panel considered the capacity and capability of Western Australia’s local government sector more broadly, and the application of a legislative framework to support this.
The Panel explored having different requirements and obligations under the new Act depending on a local government’s size, scale and/or demographics. However, finding the balance of what local governments should be required to do and for what reasons
proved difficult. The Panel decided that a more practical approach was for the new Act to apply minimum standards to all local governments and, where applicable, to provide flexibility within the new Act that enables a diversity of obligations to
be placed on or assumed by local governments dependent on their capacity and capability.
Communities and stakeholders need to be able to distinguish between local governments’ basic statutory responsibilities for planning, service delivery and good governance on the one hand, and their discretionary activities on the other. This can
be achieved by including a short statement that summarises statutory obligations. The South Australian Act offers a useful model (refer to Attachment 2).
The power of general competence provides significant autonomy to local governments. Under the Local Government Act 1995 local governments are considered to be autonomous bodies established to provide for the good government of persons in their
district. This general competency power is not, however, unlimited – local governments must comply with Commonwealth and State legislation.
To ensure the system of local government is sustainable, accountable, collaborative and capable, councils should:
When developing the principles, the Panel considered the following to be important:
The Panel considered that there were substantial opportunities and benefits in combining the existing Grants Commission and Advisory Board and in providing the new body with a more strategic role. The Grants Commission has access to considerable financial
data on local governments and an understanding of the challenges facing the sector. This could be valuable in making recommendations to the Minister on boundary changes and other matters.
The Grants Commission’s visiting program also means that it is in a position to identify and promote best practice and to identify local governments that would benefit from capacity building.
It was agreed that the new body should continue to provide recommendations on significant local government boundary changes and amalgamations, including all of those proposals where parties were not in agreement. To remove unnecessary regulatory burden,
boundary changes of a minor nature which had the agreement of both local governments and the ratepayers in the affected area should be handled by the department in a streamlined process. Examples of this would be changing the responsibility for a
road or park, or ensuring that a property (such as a farm) is in a single district.
In addition to managing the distribution of Commonwealth grant funding to local governments in Western Australia and making recommendations on boundary changes, the role of the combined body should include monitoring the overall health of the sector by
identifying issues and trends and advising the Minister. This combined body should be charged with providing frank and fearless advice to the Minister, the department, and local governments.
The new body should be constituted of members of varied skills, with administrative support provided by the department.
Making specific proposals for structural reform – in particular ‘forced’ amalgamations – was beyond the Panel’s terms of reference. However, as noted in Part A of this report, the COVID-19 crisis has focused attention on
the need to maximise the capacity and resilience of the system of local government. Various options for structural reform have a role to play, and the new Act should include measures to facilitate necessary adjustments.
The Panel sees significant flaws in the current provisions for boundary changes and amalgamations of local government areas. Procedures for minor boundary changes appear unnecessarily complex, whilst the use of the boundary change mechanism to undertake
de facto amalgamations – as approved by the Supreme Court in 2014 – raises serious issues about due process. It effectively by-passes the ‘Dadour’ provisions for local referenda, which themselves can be seen as unduly restrictive
when local government needs to adapt to changing circumstances.
These issues have been debated repeatedly across Australia. The Panel saw potential in the new provisions for boundary changes and mergers adopted in early 2019 in South Australia (sections 26-28). The process was negotiated with the Local Government
Association. It is based on a set of principles (refer to Attachment 3); administered independently by the Grants Commission; requires detailed investigation and extensive community consultation on major boundary adjustments and amalgamations;
but has no requirement for referenda.
The new Local Government Commission proposed under Recommendation 8 could play a similar role in Western Australia, monitoring the capacity and health of the local government system, identifying action required to address any deficiencies, and handling
major boundary changes. The Panel is also recommending that the structural reform ‘toolkit’ be augmented with an improved model of joint subsidiaries (Recommendations 14 and 39), plus a new option for establishing community boards (Recommendation
11). Robust, multi-functional joint subsidiaries could offer an alternative to amalgamations, whilst community boards could be used to maintain local identity, democracy and services in merged local government areas.
The Panel noted that with 137 local governments ranging in populations from less than 200 to over 200,000, Western Australian local governments can be either too small to meet their responsibilities, or too big to be properly representative of different
localities within them, and respond adequately to varying community needs and demands. Accordingly, there is a need for mechanisms in the new Act that would, on the one hand, encourage small councils to combine their efforts ‘upwards’
through regional cooperation and/or mergers, and on the other, enable large councils to devolve some of their responsibilities ‘downwards’ in order to promote effective community governance.
The Panel concluded that the new Act should therefore include an option for local governments to establish community boards along the lines of those that have operated successfully in New Zealand for more than 30 years, but with flexibility to tailor
implementation of the model to particular local circumstances. Community boards could either replace councils that have been merged into a larger entity, thus maintaining local identity and democracy in former local government areas; or be established
for specific localities within a large local government area – a suburb or group of suburbs, a rural district with a distinct identity and a sense of community, a town within a large shire, a remote Aboriginal settlement, and so on.
Key features of the community boards model should include:
While there are promising signs of increasing regional cooperation between local governments for certain functions and in some parts of the state, the Panel formed the view that much more could and should be done – as proposed in WALGA’s 2008
report The Journey: Sustainability into the Future. The evident limitations of the current model of regional subsidiaries is a particular concern. The Panel proposes that increased collaborative working should be framed as a specific objective
of the new Act: that could be realised through a streamlined model of joint subsidiaries and by adding a regional dimension to IPR, as explained under Recommendations 34 and 35.
The Panel also noted the potential need for a new form of collaborative ‘regional authority’ that overlays local government areas and can bring together local governments, state (and where necessary, federal) agencies and other key stakeholders
to address specific issues. Such an arrangement might be required when regional issues, such as provision of services to remote Aboriginal communities or complex environmental management problems, exceed the scope of local governments and joint subsidiaries.
Greater cooperation and collaboration is one way to address financial sustainability and capacity of local governments without the fear of loss of identity. The Panel noted that there are a range of areas that could potentially be delivered jointly
by local governments, such as corporate services, economic development, IPR, waste management and community planning.
The current Local Government Act provides for two formal approaches: regional local governments and regional subsidiaries. The Panel recommends that there would be benefits to having only one broader legislative model of collaboration. A single flexible
model could reduce complexity and provide for a more tailored compliance regime. Local governments would still have the flexibility to enter into voluntary arrangements outside of the legislated model. This would remove the regional local government
model under the new Act, noting the need for appropriate transitional provisions for those already established.
Further discussion and recommendations on this new flexible model, including its use for economic development, can be found under Smarter Planning and Service Delivery at Recommendations 37 to 40.
The Panel welcomed the progress being made through the State Local Government Partnership Agreement. It appreciated the difficulty of requiring such agreements under legislation, but at the same time sees an opportunity to promote and support ongoing
improvements to state-local relations by including relevant principles in the new Act. The British Columbia Community Charter Act includes a set of principles that may offer a starting point for further discussion (refer to Attachment 4).
The Panel noted, however, that any set of principles must make clear not only the need for mutual respect, consultation and cooperation, but also local government’s responsibility to see itself and act as government, and to accept
its ongoing obligations to plan, deliver services and provide good governance as part of the broader public sector.
The Panel identified a need for the new Act to include specific provisions for engagement with Aboriginal peoples and communities, including new consultative mechanisms and an obligation to plan for, and where appropriate undertake, delivery of essential
services to local communities.
The Panel noted that while legislative statements mandating general recognition of the diversity of communities are common in the local government context, statements recognising the unique role of Aboriginal people in the community and the potential
role of local government in partnering to achieve outcomes are less common in local government legislation in Australian State jurisdictions.
Models that should be further explored include the Local Government Act 2020 (Victoria) where the definition of ‘municipal community’ includes ‘traditional owners of the land in the municipal’; the Local Government Act 2002 (New Zealand) which specifically references the need to provide opportunities for Maori people to contribute to the decision making process and the Local Government Act 2008 (Northern Territory) which includes in its preamble “the
rights and interests of Indigenous traditional owners, as enshrined in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) and the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), must also be recognised and the delivery of local government
services must be in harmony with those laws”.
There is a need for local governments to work closely with indigenous communities and accept their responsibilities to ensure that adequate services are offered to all citizens, by the local government itself and/or in conjunction with other governments
and agencies. While it was recognised that there are unique challenges with service delivery to remote communities, IPR processes should require identification of their needs, plus effective engagement and shared decision making with Aboriginal
The Panel discussed voting methodologies and agreed that the first past the post system can often lead to outcomes that do not adequately represent the community’s preferences with successful candidates being elected without a clear majority
There was support for the adoption of optional preferential voting, a variant to preferential voting whereby the voter can mark their preference of all or some of the candidates on the ballot paper, with “1” indicating their first preference.
It was considered that this would provide results that are most representative of the community’s views and would not require electors to vote for candidates about which they had little knowledge.
The Panel considered that there are two sides to local democracy: involvement in local decision-making to influence and inform the decisions that are being made by council, and elections. If structures and processes are in place to ensure all
segments of the community are engaged, there may no longer be a need to extend election franchise beyond residents of the district.
The Panel noted that the introduction of compulsory voting was previously recommended by the Robson Review and was suggested by several submissions, but believes that before this change is considered, recommendations contained within this report should
be implemented to increase voter participation and possibly negate the need for the introduction of compulsory voting.
The Panel considered democratic principles, the right of business owners and operators to participate in and inform local government decision-making, the relatively small take-up of the property electoral franchise and the administrative burden for
local governments to retain a separate register for the small number of owner occupiers that are currently registered to vote. The Panel believed that there are other avenues that local governments could and should use to ensure that business
and landowner views are adequately heard through mechanisms such as a business advisory group.
The Panel discussed the merits and disadvantages of all elected members being elected at the same time. While acknowledging the potential for loss of corporate knowledge if no councillors were re-elected, the benefits of one election held every four
years midway between State Government elections has the potential to increase participation and would reduce costs for local governments.
The Panel decided that the Western Australian Electoral Commission (WAEC) was the most appropriate organisation to coordinate local government elections. Having the one body responsible for conducting elections would allow for greater consistency
across local governments. It was acknowledged that there would be higher costs associated with WAEC run elections; however, this would be offset by elections being held only every four years.
While believing that electronic and online voting was not yet mature enough to be introduced, the Panel decided that new technologies would be likely to become practical in the life of the new Act and that the legislation should allow for the piloting
and introduction of these. In the event online voting is introduced, postal / in person voting should remain an option.
To improve equity, the Panel determined all elections should be postal with the ability to lodge those votes in person, including on election day, being retained. The need for voting to be able to be carried out via the post has been demonstrated
by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
To optimise participation in the electoral process and in recognition of the changes to postal services in Australia, an extension to the electoral timeframe is recommended. This should allow additional time for the issuing of postal votes and more
time for electors to return their votes. The timeframe should be set through regulations in consultation with the Western Australian Electoral Commissioner.
The Panel discussed methods to increase community knowledge of candidates including increasing the length of the candidate profile statements, providing more structure for these, and publishing candidate answers to WAEC approved questions on local
governments’ websites. The Panel was supportive of additional information being provided by candidates in local government elections. This would enable voters to make more informed voting decisions, rather than relying on the 150-word statement.
This could be achieved through set questions in regulations to which candidates would respond in the form of a statutory declaration. The Victorian provisions serve as a model.
The Panel also considered ways to increase transparency and accountability and reduce conflicts during a local government election period. The Panel agreed that the Code of Conduct should include caretaker provisions to be imposed from the close of
nominations to the date of the election.
The Panel acknowledged the need to protect the CEO from potential conflicts during the caretaker period and, consistent with Recommendation 59, the CEO would no longer receive or investigate complaints.
In order to ensure integrity in the election process, the Panel agreed that there should be a requirement for the declaration of a gift to be signed by both the candidate and the donor.
The Panel also acknowledged the increasing likelihood that candidates will receive donations through crowd funding platforms which makes identifying individual donors difficult and determined that the department should investigate the legality and
practicality of regulating crowd funding donations to ensure integrity in the election process is upheld.
The changes to wards and elected member numbers due to the above recommendations should be phased in.
The Panel gave careful consideration to the recommendations of the Local Government Advisory Board in relation to wards and councillor numbers. Wards in local governments with small populations were seen as unnecessarily increasing fragmentation and
detracting from the requirement for elected members to act in the best interests of the entire community.
However, the Panel acknowledged there may be situations, for example remote communities, where it is important to ensure there is balanced representation on council. The Panel decided local governments in bands 3 and 4 can apply to the new Local Government
Commission for wards should it be necessary to enable local democracy in their districts.
The Panel considered that it was desirable for councils to have an odd number of positions.
The Panel considered that it was important to provide a council with the ability to elect a new mayor/president to replace one who had lost the confidence of the other members of council within their four-year term. The Panel decided the fairest and
most efficient way to do this was to have two year terms for council elected mayors and presidents which will provide the opportunity for council to replace them after this period should there be dissatisfaction with their performance amongst
The Panel agreed that there should be no change made to the current situation with no limits applying to the number of terms a councillor and mayor/president can serve.
The Panel noted that property franchise voting may nevertheless be appropriate for the City of Perth and suggested that the Department could undertake further consultation to determine if the City of Perth Act 2016 should be amended so property
franchise voting continues to apply in the City of Perth.
The Panel recognised the City of Perth Act 2016 might be appropriate legislation to further strengthen the relationship between the State Government, business and the City of Perth in promoting the social and economic interests of the whole
The revised statements of roles and responsibilities seek to address more clearly the following issues:
The council —
A councillor —
In addition to the responsibilities of a councillor, the mayor or president —
The Panel considers the community key to the effective functioning of the local government, with the local government being there for and to respond to the community. It is therefore vital that all segments of the community are heard and can participate
The Panel agreed that all local governments should be required to have a Community Engagement Charter, with individual local governments responsible for ensuring they are fit for purpose. The department should provide suitable guidance material and
templates for those local governments that wish to utilise these.
The Panel proposed that triggers for consultation be included, such as borrowing, change of purpose in land use, and major changes to strategy.
The Panel considered that the Charter should be accessible, flexible, and include the deliberative community engagement requirements for IPR. The Charter should also include a reporting mechanism in the annual report.
The Panel believed that elected members have an important role to play in community engagement in listening to the community and that this should be outlined in the Charter. Training should be available to elected members in this area.
The Panel recommended the retention of an annual meeting (to replace the Annual Electors’ Meetings) which will facilitate community participation through more modern delivery mechanisms to reach people who may not be able to attend ordinary
council meetings (for example, using Zoom and/or webinars). At this meeting there should be an annual performance statement made by the mayor/president, a report from the chair of the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee and a question and answer
The Panel believes that strengthening and reframing the Act’s provisions for IPR would promote and link more effective strategic and corporate planning, regional cooperation, community engagement, financial management, service delivery, and
monitoring and reporting of outcomes.
The Panel noted some excellent examples of emerging regional cooperation in strategic planning, and opportunities for creative use of IPR to promote a more holistic approach to community wellbeing, and in particular for collaborative planning with
Aboriginal peoples and communities. However, it was concerned that the current IPR framework is not fully understood across the sector, and that implementation remains patchy. There is an evident need for more work to develop and explain the framework,
and for further assistance to individual local governments and regional groups to enhance their ability both to meet basic IPR requirements, and to grasp opportunities to make better use of IPR as a tool to achieve desired outcomes for places
The Panel concluded that reframing the current requirements for Strategic Community Plans and Corporate Business Plans would be helpful in explaining the scope and intent of IPR. This would involve:
The Panel therefore proposes that Strategic Community Plans be replaced by multi-level ‘Community Strategies’ that could be prepared for regions, individual local government districts, and smaller areas/localities within a local government
district. Corporate Business Plans should be reframed as broader ‘Council Plans’ that give effect (as far as possible) to Community Strategies. These proposals draw on current practice in Victoria (council plans and community planning)
and New South Wales (joint organisations developing regional strategies).
The Panel also examined the requirement for Victorian local governments to report on a wide range of key performance indicators and considered this type of reporting to the community to be highly desirable. To alleviate the burden this could place
on some local governments, it proposes that reporting should be phased in, starting with indicators for financial management, service delivery and governance, and expanding to broader well-being measures over time. Reporting should be made freely
available through a statewide online platform.
Part of the reporting framework could be an annual declaration that the local government is successfully meeting its obligation to provide essential basic services to its community. This could be a function of the Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee.
The Panel strongly believed that all citizens in Western Australia are entitled to a minimum level of service delivery, whether it be a metropolitan local government or a remote community. However, the diversity of the sector means that services
may vary significantly between local governments. The Panel felt that while there are some services where it is reasonable to have discretion, there are some minimum services that all local governments must provide.
The Panel was cognisant of the financial constraints and capability of local governments to be able to deliver basic services and in some cases, providing services independently would be challenging. In these situations, local governments should
collaborate using the joint subsidiary model.
As noted earlier, service delivery to remote communities was identified as an area that could be particularly challenging due to financial constraints, isolation and access (among other things). The Panel strongly supported identification of service
needs through the IPR process and minimum services being delivered. However, financial and cultural barriers will sometimes need to be addressed through broader whole of government initiatives. New mechanisms may be needed to facilitate such
initiatives (such as the South Australian Outback Communities Authority). A community should have the right to decline a particular service or services if they have other arrangements in place.
The Minister should have a qualified reserve power to intervene in certain situations and provide enforceable directions to local governments. This would include where minimum services were not being provided and in the event of a natural disaster
The Panel noted that local government provides an important stimulus in the economy, especially in regional areas, and that it is important that a legislative framework does not unnecessarily restrict the ability for local governments to be involved
in economic development.
The Panel was of the view that there are not currently any specific barriers in the Local Government Act that hinder the ability for local government to grow their economy. They also noted that local governments’ involvement in economic
development should be voluntary, and subject to the needs and desires of the local community. The new Act should provide appropriate governance and accountability measures covering these activities.
The Panel noted that the current regional subsidiaries model could be improved in relation to their establishment, scope of operations and governance. It was noted that the current model has not been utilised by the sector as its scope is perceived
to be too limiting.
While the Panel supported local governments being innovative and able to operate when market failure is identified, it was of the view that the new Act should explicitly require that local governments operate in accordance with competitive neutrality
principles when establishing a subsidiary and setting fees and charges.
The Panel also noted concerns that a local government may use a subsidiary to reduce employee pay and conditions and considered that this should be prohibited in the Act.
The introduction of a new subsidiaries model, similar to the Tasmanian model, would allow local governments the flexibility to operate on a commercial basis (within reason). It is recommended that if this is to occur, adequate controls would need
to be introduced, including community consultation, model charters, appropriate reporting and audit measures and providing the ability for the Minister to intervene if considered necessary.
The legislative framework for the model should provide autonomy for local governments to establish a subsidiary without Ministerial oversight while retaining reserve powers for the Minister if required. There should be measures to ensure greater
transparency and accountability to the community.
The Panel also discussed concerns with local governments using the Associations Incorporation Act to establish entities outside the Local Government Act and considered that as a general rule this be prohibited under the new Act. Local governments
should encourage non-government providers to establish and govern associations where appropriate for community-led service delivery, with local governments only stepping in if the association cannot operate effectively or needs to be wound
It is important that local governments are enabled through the legislation to invest their reserves effectively to maximise revenue. Given that the funds are public money, this must be balanced to ensure that local governments and their communities
are not unnecessarily exposed to risk. The Panel agreed that local governments should be required to prepare an investment policy, dealing with approved investments and risk levels amongst other things.
Local government legislation in Queensland contains a tiered investment structure, with local governments having the power to invest based on their tier. This takes into consideration risk levels and credit ratings. The Panel suggested that further
expert analysis be undertaken to inform potential implementation in Western Australia.
Local governments generally have low levels of debt relative to security, income levels and service responsibilities. The Panel noted that there are benefits to using debt for financial management when the benefits of the capital investment are
multi-generational. On this basis, the Panel recommended expanding the ability for local governments to use freehold land to secure debt.
Building upgrade finance, which is operating in some other jurisdictions, is a scheme whereby a local government administers loans issued by financiers to non-residential building owners to upgrade their buildings. The Panel saw merit in allowing
the introduction of the scheme for prescribed purposes such as upgrading heritage buildings or environmental upgrades. The introduction of building upgrade finance will need to have appropriate safeguards in place which could be modelled on
the approach used in other States.
The Panel was of the view that the budget needs to be more closely integrated with IPR processes. As one measure to achieve this alignment, local governments should transition to budgeting on the basis of service delivery. This would require each
service or program to be fully costed, ensuring elected members (and ultimately the community) understand the cost of providing the service and encourage critical review of costs. This would also allow the community to provide more informed
input into the Council Plans.
Program budgeting will result in better information leading to more informed decisions. Reporting on actual cost of services could result in decisions to allocate limited resources in different ways and gain greater acceptance by the community.
The positive impact a local government can have on their local economy through using businesses within their district and region were noted by the Panel. The view was held that there would be benefits for the community in seeing how much the local
government had spent locally and with which businesses. This would be included in the Annual Report as a “local content” report.
The Panel agreed that procurement needs to be open, transparent, fair and ensure adequate market testing, value for money and local consideration.
The Panel supported aligning local government and State Government procurement frameworks, including the tender threshold, procurement rules under the tender threshold and the publication of tenders and high value contracts on TendersWA. By increasing
consistency between State and local government, and transparency of procurement rules and processes it creates a business-friendly environment and increases confidence in the process.
Local governments should be able to advertise tenders on other platforms, in addition to TendersWA, if they so choose.
In keeping with the recommended alignment to the State procurement framework, a model procurement policy should be developed that is consistent, as much as practicable, with the State rules that apply for purchasing goods under the tender threshold.
The Panel believed development of a model procurement policy would assist local governments with the procurement process and increase consistency between local governments. If a local government chose to deviate from the model, local governments
should have to justify the deviation by explaining their reasoning.
It was acknowledged that local government preferred supplier panels are important and need to be retained; however, their establishment and operation needs to be regulated. The Panel supported the continuance of the WALGA Preferred Supplier Panel,
subject to regular oversight and checks and balances to ensure that it is constituted correctly and there is accountability.
The Panel recommended the introduction of an open register of local businesses where local businesses can register with the local government and outline the services and goods they provide. This will assist local governments to support local businesses
when procuring goods under the tender threshold, and in informing them of open tenders. Local governments should determine what is considered ‘local’ to their community.
There are currently limited penalties for non-compliance with the procurement rules in the Local Government Act. The Panel supported the compliance model in the State Government procurement rules whereby greater oversight and less autonomy is
the result of compliance breaches and believed the Office of the Independent Assessor should have the power to address cases of non-compliance. (See Recommendation 54 for more information on the Office of the Independent Assessor).
The Panel noted the importance of rates as local government’s principal own source revenue, but equally the need to ensure transparency and fairness in the way rates are calculated and imposed.
With local governments increasingly being required to provide more services and to a higher level to their communities, as well as maintaining their existing assets, the Panel noted that there is concern as to how local governments will continue
to fund this in the future given their limited revenue sources.
Of all revenue sources, the most important own source revenue for local governments is rates revenue. Local governments are permitted to impose differential general rates according to land zoning, land use (including if the land is vacant)
or a combination of the two.
The Panel was supportive of local governments being required to develop a rates and revenue strategy, as is in place in other jurisdictions. The strategy would include the schedule of fees and charges set by local governments (currently
included in the budget), the methodology where the fees are set at cost recovery, the rate/s in the dollar and associated objects and reasons for differential general rates. This would increase transparency for ratepayers and enable local
governments to demonstrate the actual cost of services to consumers.
It was acknowledged that there are limitations on local governments’ ability to raise revenue due to the current rate exemption categories. Rate exemptions result in local governments needing to cover the rates shortfall by other means,
raising the funds from other groups of ratepayers or alternatively reducing services or asset maintenance.
It was accepted that there may be sound reasons why certain exempt categories should be retained, including linkages to State Government policies and initiatives. The Panel recommends that applicants should be required to prove each year that
they still fit the criteria for the exemption, especially for organisations claiming charitable status.
While local governments have the power to set their own fees and charges generally, there are a number of fees and charges that local governments have no control over. Only a few of these are set under the current Local Government Act.
The Panel agreed that fees and charges set in legislation can provide consistency between local governments. It was also noted that while the fees and charges may be consistent, there is likely to be a different level of service provided by
It was also noted that while local governments are encouraged to adopt a cost recovery model when setting fees and charges, there may be circumstances where it is appropriate to set them lower for certain population groups (for example, seniors)
or to encourage certain outcomes in the community.
The Panel supported the expansion and strengthening of the role of local government audit committees to become Audit, Risk and Improvement Committees. Moving to a principles-based Act and providing local governments with more autonomy emphasises
the need for self-regulation. This requires a robust process for accountability and transparency, justifying the need for the committee to have an independent chair. The Panel also concluded that, given the committee’s expanded and
critical role, there should be a majority of members not associated with the local government in any way and appointed and remunerated for their skills.
This aligns with the changes occurring within the State Government and the Office of the Auditor General recommendations.
Audit, Risk and Improvement Committees should be required to review matters such as compliance, risk management, financial management, fraud control and governance of the local government.
The Panel was of the view that an Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee could have a role in providing advice to council on decisions across a range of matters, including good governance, financial and risk management, and continuous improvement.
The Chair could have a more public role, including in addressing council on relevant matters, reporting at the Annual Community Meeting and preparing a statement in the local government’s annual report.
To address cost and access to suitable personnel to take on this role, regional Internal Audit, Risk and Improvement Committees should be permitted. In addition, consideration should be given to establishing a panel of approved independent
members from which councils could choose.
The Panel discussed ways to ensure council decision-making was transparent and accountable. It recommends that not only should actual conflicts of interest be declared before the council meeting, but that each councillor should make a declaration
in relation to any item on the agenda on which they may not be impartial. This would include, for example, items where they had taken a public position or lobbied in relation to the matter before the meeting. If the councillor believes
that they are unable to put those interests aside and make a decision in the best interests of the district as a whole, the person should be able to remove themselves from the meeting for that item, providing a quorum is maintained so
that a vote can be taken. A declaration prior to the meeting would assist the CEO in determining whether or not a quorum is available for a matter.
While webcasting (livestreaming) of council meetings was preferred, given the technology constraints that could be experienced by some local governments, audio recordings of the meetings was considered as a practical minimum to ensure greater
transparency in the decision making process. These recordings would be State records under the State Records Act 2000. The recordings should be required to be published on the website by the time the minutes were published.
The Panel agreed that the department should play an active role in assisting the council in the CEO recruitment and performance review processes. Another option is that prior to selection, the Department could provide a reference check and
possible recommendations for training for the shortlisted candidates for the positions of CEO.
To increase transparency and foster greater trust in local government, the Panel believed that elected members should declare in their Primary and Annual Returns interests that could be perceived as affecting decision-making. This would include
membership of political parties, business associations and the holding of any office in an incorporated association such as a sporting club.
The Panel discussed the importance of training for elected members, including training beyond the foundation units in such areas as land use planning. Additional training should also be required of mayors and presidents to provide them with
such skills as leadership, conducting meetings and managing disputes. Training for new CEOs was also considered vital so that they had knowledge across the whole portfolio of their responsibilities. This need should be identified during
the recruitment process and training should commence shortly after appointments are made. The Department could also identify training needs in CEOs and senior staff and advise the relevant mayor/president.
The Panel agreed that the department should assist councils through early intervention to remedy weaknesses and provide mentoring and support. This would be in addition to the department’s role in policy development, legislation and
A key benefit of an early intervention model would be the ability for the department to work with local governments to improve their performance, governance and compliance with legislation and to strengthen the capacity of local governments.
This model should enable the department to appoint a monitor to support local governments that are experiencing governance issues. The role of a monitor would be to observe governance processes and report back on issues; provide advice to
councils that are experiencing governance issues, and to make recommendations to the Minister for Local Government for further action. The relevant council should be advised of the terms of the monitor appointment.
The Panel saw value in a power to extend the role of a monitor to temporarily take over certain functions of a local government when good governance practices are not being adopted or services are not being delivered to segments of the community.
The COVID-19 situation has highlighted the need for the Minister to be able to direct local governments and make declarations without having to apply to the State Emergency Coordinator so that the Local Government Act can be applied flexibly
and adapt to the changing environment of an emergency.
The Panel considered the range of bodies that currently play a role in ensuring the integrity of local governments. They supported the continuation of the Ombudsman’s role in dealing with complaints related to local government administrative
The Panel supported the creation of an Office of the Independent Assessor, an independent “one stop shop” body to investigate and assess complaints against elected members. The Independent Assessor could assess and prioritise all
complaints and, depending on the outcome of its investigations, refer it to the relevant agency. This could include the Corruption and Crime Commission, the Public Sector Commission, or the State Administrative Tribunal for mediation,
possible further investigation and determination of a sanction/s. Where a complaint involves behaviour it could be referred back to the council to deal with under Part B of the new Code of Conduct provisions. It was suggested that the
Queensland model for an Independent Assessor may provide appropriate guidance.
The Office of the Independent Assessor would require a team of investigators and the Panel considered that the Office could take over the department’s current role in conducting inquiries and investigations. The Independent Assessor
could advise the Minister on suspension and dismissals of elected members and councils. It could also have powers to make recommendations to the State Administrative Tribunal and local governments.
The Office of Independent Assessor would replace the Standards Panel, and have the power to investigate complaints of breach of Part C of the Code of Conduct. Its findings in relation to breaches of conduct could be referred to the State Administrative
Tribunal for imposition of the penalty.
The Panel considered that there should be a power under the Act for the appointment of an acting CEO to temporarily take the place of a CEO if an investigation by the Office of Independent Assessor reveals serious deficiencies in the way the
local government is administered.
The Panel was of the opinion that the principles behind the setting of bands for the payment of salaries and allowances should be set in the new Local Government Act, rather than by the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal, with the Tribunal responsible
for the setting of the monetary figures for each category.
These bands should have wider application; being used to determine whether a local government should have wards, as an example. This would create a level of consistency in treatment of local governments considered to be similar according
to the principles.
The Panel saw merit in laws being harmonised throughout the State; however, agreed that there should be flexibility for local governments to tailor local laws to address certain, limited, local matters.
The Panel also saw value in the introduction of deemed provisions which operate in a manner similar to the Planning and Development deemed provisions regulations. Deemed provisions are essentially uniform local laws which will operate across
the State. They can also be amended from time to time and will override any inconsistent local laws.
The benefit of deemed provisions is that there is more consistency across the State for matters where harmonisation is considered important. It also reduces the need for local governments to develop their own laws with the accompanying capability
and capacity implications.
The development of model local laws which complement the deemed provisions will allow local governments the flexibility to introduce specific provisions to their districts. The “local” would be delivered through the identification
of certain elements that could be district or region specific, with the council having the power to specify these.
The Joint Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, in approving the model local laws or deemed provisions, would approve the extent to which these could be altered without referral back to the Committee. Further public consultation would
not be required on these variations but could be undertaken by the local government.
The use of model local laws and deemed provisions would reduce the administrative burden on local governments to consult. If a local government wanted to introduce provisions outside the model or deemed provisions, consultation would be required
and the law would need to be scrutinised by the Joint Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation. The local government should have to justify to the Committee why such a deviation was necessary or desirable.
The Panel also supported a restriction on the range of matters over which a local government could introduce a local law; with approval necessary outside of this.
The Panel deliberated the merits of WALGA being constituted under the Local Government Act and determined that it was not appropriate to incorporate a member body under this legislation. This created confusion as to the extent of the Minister’s
powers over the organisation and WALGA’s level of independence.
More appropriate legislation would appear to be the Associations Incorporation Act 2015. Transitional provisions should be included in the new Local Government Act to allow for the orderly reconstitution of WALGA without affecting their
This change would not restrict the new Act (or other Acts) from referencing WALGA membership on boards and committees.
The Panel saw merit in the sector being able to use its aggregated buying power through use of WALGA’s preferred supplier program and their mutual insurance coverage. Recognition of these initiatives in the legislation should be accompanied
by a power for the Auditor General to conduct regular audits of these programs and related processes.
Northern Territory Local Government Act 2019 Part 1.2
The underlying principles of this Act are as follows:
The rights and interests of Indigenous traditional owners, as enshrined in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) and the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), are to be recognised and the delivery of local government services
must be in harmony with those laws.
This Act provides for the following:
South Australia Local Government Act
The functions of a council include—
Following negotiations between the State government and the Local Government Association the South Australian Act was amended in 2018 to introduce a new, more flexible process for structural reform, set out in sections 26-32C (see below).
Importantly, section 26(d) states that the commission should, so far as is relevant, give preference to structural changes that enhance the capacity of local government to play a significant role in the future of an area or region from a strategic perspective.
Other principles (section 26(1)(c)) are as follows:
Key elements of the process set out in sections 27-32C of the Act include:
British Columbia Community Charter Act
Principles of municipal-provincial relations (given effect in sections 276 and 277)
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