An overview of how local government works.
Local government is an integral part of the system of government both in Western Australia and nationally. It is also an economically crucial sector as local governments in Western Australia spend close to five billion dollars each year.
Local government is the grass roots level of government in Australia. Its council members are ideally placed to monitor the changing needs of local communities, to plan and implement strategies to meet those needs, and to bring local concerns to the attention
of the State and Commonwealth Governments.
Local government’s strength is its closeness to the community and its ability to take account of, and to respond to, local views and ideas.
The State is divided into districts, each with its own local government. Currently, there are 137 local governments in Western Australia. The Local Government Act 1995 and its associated Regulations also apply to the Commonwealth Indian Ocean Territories
comprising the Shires of Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
Local governments vary greatly in their characteristics:
Local governments are categorised as either:
The powers of local governments to provide services and facilities, and make local laws, are derived from legislation passed in the State Parliament. The principal Act from which local governments gain their power is the Local Government Act 1995 (the
The Act provides for a system of local government by creating a constitution for elected local government in the State. It describes the functions of local governments, how elections should be conducted and establishes a framework for the administration
and financial management of local governments, including the scrutiny of their affairs.
Local governments also derive powers from other Acts, including the Public Health Act 2016, which vests wide ranging powers in local governments to ensure the health of each community is safeguarded, and the Planning and Development Act 2005, which gives
local governments the power to prepare local planning schemes and ensure orderly development.
Other important statutes include the Bush Fires Act 1954, the Cemeteries Act 1986, the Dog Act 1976, the Cat Act 2011, and the Environmental Protection Act 1986.
Under the Act, local governments have the general power to provide for the good governance of people in their district. This means that local governments can make decisions if the Act or any other written law does not prevent them from doing so. A local
government can make local laws (legislative function) and provide services and facilities (executive function).
A local government can make a local law for the good governance of the people in its district. However, a local law will be inoperative to the extent that it is inconsistent with any other written law (for instance, because there is already a similar
State law covering the same area). Local governments can make local laws about health and safety, street trading, reserves and foreshores, signs, parking, cats and dogs, meeting procedures, and more.
The executive functions of local government include the administration of local laws and the provision of services and facilities. A local government can provide any service or facility that is necessary or convenient for the good governance of the people
in its district or for the performance of any other function under the Act.
Before commencing provision of a service or facility, a local government must satisfy itself that the service or facility integrates with State or Commonwealth services, does not inappropriately duplicate any State, Commonwealth or private service, and
is managed efficiently and effectively.
The Act gives local governments freedom to make decisions for their communities, promotes public participation, and demands accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness in local government. This requires strategic thinking by local government, including
In addition to dealing with changing legislative requirements and reforms, local governments are asking themselves, “What is the best way to organise physical, financial and human resources to achieve a competitive and productive organisation that
meets the needs and desires of the community we serve?”
To undertake activities, local governments need revenue. This is acquired from a variety of sources.
Rates are a tax on property. They form the principal source of revenue for many local governments. The Local Government Act 1995 and the Valuation of Land Act 1978 prescribe the methods for assessing the rateable value of property and the types of rates
that can be levied. Each local government then determines the amount and type of rate to levy.
Each local government in Western Australia receives an annual grant from the Commonwealth Government. This money is allocated and distributed to local governments by the Western Australian Local Government Grants Commission.
Local governments can borrow money. They may take up loans to embark on large scale capital activities for which normal rates and other sources of revenue are insufficient.
Most local governments receive a small percentage of their income from fees and charges. Local governments can impose a fee or a charge in a range of circumstances, including for services such as waste collection, providing security and for hire of facilities.
The role of the Council, as prescribed by the Act, is that it:
Mayor is the title given to the chief elected officer of a city or town council. President is the title given to the chief elected officer of a shire council.
The role of the mayor or president is to:
The role of a mayor or president also includes the role of a councillor. A mayor or president has no authority to make decisions as an individual other than to authorise expenditure in an emergency.
Note: Mayors or presidents may be elected either by the members of the council for two years, or by the electors of the district for four years.
The role of each councillor, as prescribed by the Act, is to:
Note: A councillor is a member of a team, shaping the district’s future in consultation with the community. Councillors represent the interests of all electors and residents. A councillor should consider the varying views of the
community and then make decisions in the best interest of the whole district.
Councillor represent the community’s interests in many ways. They can pass on electors’ views, support initiatives, and report complaints and problems.
The representation of electors’ views is complicated in councils that operate under a ward system. A ward system occurs when the district is divided into sections for electoral purposes. For example, in the district of Ashburton there are six wards:
Ashburton, Onslow, Pannawonica, Tableland, and Tom Price. A councillor has a duty to present the views of electors in his or her ward and to consider the good of the district as a whole when making a decision.
The values, characteristics, and commitments that are expected of a councillor include:
Each local government must employ a CEO and staff to:
CEOs are selected by the council and are employed on a fixed term contract basis. This contract contains performance criteria which are evaluated by the council in the CEO’s performance review.
The CEO is the chief executive (non-elected) officer. His or her function is to:
The CEO acts as the conduit between council members and council staff. All other council staff, including engineers, planners, financial managers, administrators and outside workers, ultimately receive their direction from, and are responsible to, the CEO.
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