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Australia has two tiers of subnational government: state (or territory) government and local government. This article deals with local government. See States and territories of Australia for information on state government.



The first official Local Government in Australia was the Adelaide Corporation which was created by the province of South Australia in October 1840. The City of Sydney and the Town of Melbourne followed in 1842. [1]

Types of local government

Local governments are subdivisions of the states and the Northern Territory. The capital, Canberra, has no local government; all functions there are performed by the territorial government of the Australian Capital Territory.

Although they are all essentially identical in function, Australian local governments have a variety of titles. Local Government Areas (LGAs) are the official unit of local government, but mostly they are referred to as "councils" referring to both the geographical area of a local government, and as well as the elected board that governs local affairs. Unlike some other countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, there is only one tier of local government in Australia. In contrast to the UK, where a Shire is a County, in Australia a 'shire' is a rural council, but a 'county' is a non-functional administrative unit used solely for the purposes of registration of land titles (see Cadastral divisions of Australia) and few people are even aware the counties exist.

In rural areas the councils are called Shires, and Cities in urban and suburban areas. Municipalities are typically older city areas in New South Wales, but resemble standard shires in rural Tasmania, and several rural towns in South Australia are also called municipalities. Other rural areas in South Australia are known as District Councils. Queensland and Western Australia both use the moniker Town for smaller rural towns. New South Wales and Queensland have introduced a new term, Regions, for LGAs formed by the amalgamation of smaller shires and rural cities. Many local governments now choose not to use a classifier, especially after such an amalgamation and refer to themselves simply as Councils, e.g. Port Macquarie-Hastings Council or Pittwater Council. Historically, Boroughs were common for small towns and metropolitan areas in Victoria, but only the Borough of Queenscliffe remains. Most LGAs retain a particular designation for historical reasons only. Another term used for the LGA governing bodies is G3, indicating the third tier of Government in Australia.

All types function very similarly, with an elected council and usually a mayor responsible for running of the LGA. Mayors in some local governments are popularly elected direct to office, but most are elected by their fellow councillors from among themselves. The powers of mayors vary as well. In some states such as Queensland the mayors have broad executive functions, wheras in New South Wales mayors are essentially ceremonial figureheads who can only exercise power at the discretion of the council.

Powers and Function

Local government powers are determined by State governments. There is no explicit mention of local government at all in the Australian constitution, although they are mentioned in the constitutions of each of the six states. The 1988 referendum sought to explicitly insert mention of local government in the federal constitution but this was comprehensively defeated. Federal government interaction with local councils happens regularly through the provision of federal grants to help fund local government managed projects.

All local governments are approximately equal in their theoretical powers, although council areas that encompass large cities such as Brisbane and Gold Coast City Councils command more resources given their larger population base. Unlike local governments in many other countries, Australian local governments have little role in providing services such as police or fire protection or schools which are the responsibility of the state or territory government.

The councils' chief responsibilities are usually provision of community facilities such as libraries and parks, maintenance of local roads, town planning, and local services such as waste disposal. These are financed by collection of local land taxes and grants from state and national governments. They are caricatured as being concerned only with the 'three Rs' - Rates, Roads and Rubbish. Their limited powers, small outlook and dependence on other bodies to continue operation means local government in Australia is often criticized as being petty, redundant and even unnecessary.

However recent years have seen State governments increasingly devolving powers onto LGAs, as in Queensland where LGA's have been granted the power to independently enact their own local legislation, in contrast to the previous system of by-laws. Councils also have organised their own representative structures such as Local Government Associations and Regional Organisations of Councils.

Type NSW NT Qld SA Tas Vic WA Total
Aboriginal shires 12 12
Borough 1 1
Cities 38 2 7 21 5 33 22 128
Community government councils 30 30
Councils 28 6 4 38
District council 35 35
Incorporated associations 26 26
Island councils 1 1
Municipalities 9 19 28
Regional councils 3 29 4 36
Rural cities 1 6 7
Shires 75 1 24 39 108 247
Towns 4 1 2 13 20
Unincorporated Far West OACDT 3 5
Total 152 63 74 69 29 79 144 610

See also


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