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.
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?