Australian Local Government Association
8 Geils Court
Deakin ACT 2600
Tel: +61 2 6122 9400
Fax: +61 2 6122 9401

About us |
Quiénes somos |
A propos de nous | Über uns |
Mayor Monitor

Mayors from Asia
Mayors from The Americas
Mayors from Europe

Local government in The Americas:
| Argentina | Bolivia | Brazil | Canada | Caribbean | Chile | Mexico | Peru | USA | Venezuela |

Local government in Europe:
| Albania | Cyprus | France | Germany | Gibralta | Greece | Iceland | Ireland | Italy | Kosovo | Malta | Portugal | Russia | Spain | UK1 | UK2 |

Local government in Asia and Australia
| Australia | China | India | Indonesia | Japan | Malaysia | Philippines | Singapore | South East Asia | South Korea | Thailand | Turkey |

Local government in Africa
| South Africa |

Australian cities underfunded
Melbourne park wins awardFederated local government
Multi-tier local government
Local government mergers
Karachi local government system

City Mayors reports news from towns and cities around the world. Worldwide | Elections | North America | Latin America | Europe | Asia | Africa | Events |

Mayors from The Americas, Europe. Asia, Australia and Africa are competing for the annual World Mayor Award. More

City Mayors ranks the world’s largest as well as richest cities and urban areas. It also ranks the cities in individual countries, and provides a list of the capital cities of some 200 sovereign countries. More

City Mayors reports political events, analyses the issues and depicts the main players. More

City Mayors describes and explains the structures and workings of local government in Europe, The Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa. More

City Mayors profiles city leaders from around the world and questions them about their achievements, policies and aims. More

City Mayors deals with economic and investment issues affecting towns and cities. More

City Mayors reports on how business developments impact on cities and examines cooperation between cities and the private sector. More

City Mayors describes and explains financial issues affecting local government. More

City Mayors lists and features urban events, conferences and conventions aimed at urban decision makers and those with an interst in cities worldwide. More

City Mayors reports urban environmental developments and examines the challenges faced by cities worldwide. More

City Mayors reports on and discusses urban development issues in developed and developing countries. More

City Mayors reports on developments in urban society and behaviour and reviews relevant research. More

City Mayors deals with urban transport issues in developed and developing countries and features the world’s greatest metro systems. More

City Mayors examines education issues and policies affecting children and adults in urban areas. More

City Mayors investigates health issues affecting urban areas with an emphasis on health in cities in developing countries. More

City Mayors examines the importance of urban tourism to city economies. More

City Mayors examines the contributions history and culture make to urban society and environment. More

City Mayors describes the history, architecture and politics of the greatest city halls in the world. More

City Mayors invites readers to write short stories about people in cities around the world. More

City Mayors questions those who govern the world’s cities and talks to men and women who contribute to urban society and environment. More

City Mayors profiles national and international organisations representing cities as well as those dealing with urban issues. More

City Mayors reports on major national and international sporting events and their impact on cities. More

City Mayors lists cities and city organisations, profiles individual mayors and provides information on hundreds of urban events. More

Local government in Australia less
powerful than in other countries
By Nick Swift

4 October 2003: The constitution of Australia delineates the powers and responsibilities of the federal government, including trade and foreign relations, defence, immigration, taxation, postal services, and so on. All areas not so assigned fall to the states and territories, but in instances of conflict, the law of the Commonwealth (federal state), needless to say, prevails. The constitution can only be changed by a national referendum, the conditions of which are difficult of realisation. Since Australia became a country, only eight proposals have been accepted out of the more than 40 submitted to referendum.

The organisation of state governments parallels that of the Commonwealth (the Federal Government), but with jurisdiction over matters such as transport, health, police services, utilities, education, housing – and local government. The states (and the Northern Territory) thus have complete power and discretion when it comes to creating all forms of local government and determining the nature and degree of the powers conferred on them.

Some state constitutions acknowledge local government. Others do not (as the national one does not). In each case, the mandates of local councils are contained in comprehensive local government acts. (The exception is the Australian Capital Territory, which has no local government.)

Altogether there are over 850 local government bodies, whether called cities, districts, municipalities, towns, boroughs or shires. They have elected councils, and their powers and responsibilities vary greatly, but typically encompass the usual subjects of planning and building, maintenance of roads and sewers, and regulation of parks and various public facilities. In the Northern Territory, it does not oversee town planning, and in that respect its local government is unique. On the other hand, in only three of the six states does local government deal with water and drainage. Brisbane stands out as the exception in the scope of its local government’s duties.

Local government in Australia has a much narrower range of functions than in most other countries. The past decade (the decade of the nineties), however, was one of great change in these respects, and those changes are continuing.

The National Office of Local Government is the branch of the Commonwealth government charged with managing relations with the third tier of government in Australia. Among its responsibilities are paying the Financial Assistance Grants that began in the mid-1970s, as well as specific purpose grants to foster local government participation in a range of Commonwealth undertakings, including care for children and the aged and services to indigenous people.

The difficulty is that this money is not enough to meet the radically expanding responsibilities (to include culture and recreation, care for the environment and urban planning, for example) of local government. Its cut of the Commonwealth financial pie has actually been shrinking. That has meant increased dependence on the old sources of revenue, such as property rates and charges for services.

As creations of the states, it is only in their relationships with those states, and their success or otherwise in winning the necessary degree of autonomy from them, that Australian local governments have any hope of getting what they need. As it is, they have actually had to take money from areas such as maintenance of roads and other basic infrastructure in order to finance the new things they have to do. The Commonwealth government has attempted to alleviate this obviously unviable situation with a $1.2 billion Roads to Recovery programme, with more, probably, to come. Moreover, in the course of the inquiries that led it to take that action, the Commonwealth discovered that the states had been passing additional costs on to local governments, even as they were cutting back on grants to local councils, especially since the Financial Assistance Grants program began. On top of that, certain states have tried to get money from local councils by means of levies and limits on rate increases that have no discernible formulae.

Some lay the blame for this predicament on what would appear to be an obvious lack of coordination among and within the various levels of government.

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) came as a result of the coming-together of state and territory associations as long ago as 1947. It represents local government in a number of contexts, including the Council of Australian Governments. That being the case, how could the uncomfortable status of local government in Australia today have come about? In a number of these contexts the ALGA is only an observer, albeit with the right to participate in discussion. In others, however – councils of ministers being the most crucial – it has no seat at all. It is, however, in precisely those forums that Australian local governments want and need a role, and it is in them that the state and territory officials refuse to acknowledge the validity of that need.

Local governments have to make do with talking, through their state associations, to state and territory representatives about everything that interests both sides. One experiment in recent years occurred in Tasmania, where state governments undertook to liaise with councils individually or in groups in the form of ‘partnership agreements’, with the aim of enhancing performance in planning and delivery of some important services.

A recent Local Government National Report included ‘an advocate and leader for the community’ and ‘an information broker’ among the functions of local government in Australia.

World Mayor 2023