Opinion: Local Government is Redundent

Once upon a time there was a reason for local government to exist.

In the early days, State (or colonial) governments in Australia weren’t terribly big affairs, their ability to minutely effect policy across the state was limited. There was no major civil service, and the only real tools at their disposal were the police and military. Their ability to wield even these blunt tools was hampered by poor communications and long distances.

As areas were settled, local governments were incorporated. A couple of hundred local land owners elected a handful of their number to organise the essentials. A bridge, a road, maybe a hospital. It was efficient.

Freemantle, 1891. I wonder if anyone told you how high you could build your fence back then?

Freemantle, 1891. I wonder if anyone told you how high you could build your fence back then?

But state government has ballooned. With improvements in communications, a massive civil service, and now three levels of government, governments sought to govern more and more. Local government lost out. All it’s major decision making responsibilities were restricted, defined, and subject to state government instruction.

Take the major reason local government exists, local planning. Your council does not make planning decisions. State planning law does, councils merely operate under this law, and all the real conflicts are sorted out by tribunals empowered by state government (VCAT for example).

That’s why local government is no longer democratic. How can an institution be responsible to it’s electors when any significant decision is made for it by another body? Local governments are reduced, a historical anachronism, no more than the administrative arm of state government.

But there is an election on. And the candidates will want to promise something. No one ever got elected by simply promising to do their job with the least possible fuss.

So far we’ve already had “random drug testing” “compulsory breath testing” and aeroplane cafes. Let’s see what other absurdities this election throws up.

Based on a longer piece I posted here. – Kieran.

Update: I’m allowed to dream aren’t I?

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10 Responses to Opinion: Local Government is Redundent

  1. OK, mark this day in your calendar, this is the day that I went in to bat FOR local government.

    OK, local government’s hallmarks are nepotism and corruption, I concede that, but surely there is some need for people on a local level to have a sense of self determination when it comes to their communities.

    I don’t pretend that local government is anything like infalable, but I really think throwing up power of determination to state and federal governments would be a step backwards.

    Having said that, everytime someone from Albury or Wodonga council open their mouth they seem to be re-inforcing your argument and throwing cold water on mine.

  2. Greg Naylor says:

    … but surely there is some need for people on a local level to have a sense of self determination when it comes to their communities … I really think throwing up power of determination to state and federal governments would be a step backwards

    Nice sentiments Jack, but it is already “Game Over”

    From the day Jeff Kennett amalgamated Victoria’s councils stripping them of all power, and got away with it, the rest of Australia’s governments (state and federal) have done a ‘Jeff’ completely destroying grass roots democracy.

    Nothing will change until a government (of any persuasion) is elected that puts the same value on grass roots democracy that you, Kieran and I share.

    So, don’t even think about voting for a candidate who professes to be there on behalf of the community. Elect him/her at your own peril. The moment they take their oath of allegiece to ‘The State’, they are obligated to support the state ahead of the community.

    Those who defy ‘the system’ on behalf of the electorate are systematically destroyed. Remember Justin Scholz in Wangaratta – gagged by the mayor and forced to resign just 18 months into his first term.

  3. Kieran says:

    surely there is some need for people on a local level to have a sense of self determination when it comes to their communities.

    Local communities shouldn’t have a sense of self determination, they should have self determination!

    But local government isn’t about self determination. It’s been stripped of all powers that offer any significant self determination. As a result, it’s not really about anything any more.

    If the local councillors were sacked and we just employed a CEO and minor local bureaucracy I doubt anyone would even notice the difference.

  4. Greg Naylor says:

    The fact is that Victoria’s municipalities did operate more efficiently under an administrator after Jeff Kennet sacked all the councils.

    The only thing that has changed is the farce of elected representatives – the administrator (CEO) is still the man

  5. raydixon says:

    Well at least councillors have hiring & firing powers over the CEO. That’s how they CAN exercise some control. I’d suggest that no CEO should get more than a 2 year contract, so that if he/she wants to keep their job then they have to listen to the councillors and not the other way around.

    Also, councillors have to approve the annual budget, so that is another key control point – if they’re game enough. “You want to spend more than the rate revenue on salaries?” (which is often the case). “Sorry, this budget won’t be approved until you cut back a bit.” That sort of thing.

    Councillors also set the priorities for the pittance of capital works programs that get carried out. However, they can also go after large Government grants for key projects if they do their homework and justify the requests – look at Mahood’s success in getting more Govt grants for Wodonga than almost the rest of the State combined. You can’t tell me she hasn’t made a difference, Wodonga is a go ahead place due to her commitment & drive in my opinion.

    As for Alpine – well we haven’t had a decent councillor elected since … can’t remember when. But if we had some people prepared to source out funding for the Bright Future project you’d see just how effective they can be … if they want to be.

  6. Isn’t yours then really an argument about the restoration of local government powers of self determination rather than scrapping local government per se?

  7. raydixon says:

    Yes it is. Or at least putting a stop to the further dilution of powers. Realistically we’d be better off eliminating the middle level of Government than the grass roots level. That’s probably why the State Govt insists on encroaching so much on council powers – because, like a dog licks its own bXXXs, they do it because they can!

  8. jr says:

    That’s it in a nutshell, Ray. A lot of what the states do can and should be controlled by the feds.

  9. Kieran says:


    As I said in the original post, I’d be happier if we just abolished state government, devolved to local government what can be devolved, and centralise federally what needs to be centralised. Couple this with a system of local direct democracy and I’d be in paradise.

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