Learn about Local Goverment

What is Local Government?

Just like people, communities have basic needs which must be met if they are to function properly.
Imagine what it would be like if there was no-one to make laws and ensure they were obeyed, to look after old and sick people, to plan where buildings should go or to keep the environment clean and safe. Imagine living in a town or suburb where the local park was not mowed, the roads were not maintained and there were no libraries.

We depend on governments to take care of these things.

Before Europeans arrived in Australia, Aboriginal communities had their own form of government where tribal elders took responsibility for community decisions.

Today, there are three spheres of government in Australia - Federal Government, State Government and Local Government.

The term "Local Government" refers to the system in which 68 local Councils operate in South Australia. The Local Government system is integral to the democratic system of government in Australia which provides vital economic, social and environmental support for communities.

The Constitution Act 1934 (SA), the Local Government Act 1999 (SA), and the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 (SA), create the legal framework within which Local Government operates and the four-yearly election process which underpins the representative nature of Local Government Councils.

Democratically elected members make up Local Government Councils and with staff support and in partnership with their local communities they manage more than $8 billion worth of community infrastructure and invest about $1 billion a year in providing services to people who live, work, do business in, and visit the local Council area.

As with other democratically elected governments, ie the State and Federal Governments, Councils have powers to raise revenue (primarily through Council rates) to provide and maintain infrastructure and services, to regulate activities (such as building development) and to impose penalties if local regulations are breached (for example dangerous dog attacks).

Since the 1960s Councils' roles have steadily expanded. This is due to:

  • community standards and expectations growing along with economic growth (for example a higher number of vehicles per household leads to demand for safer local roads/traffic management and the emergence of Legionnaire's Disease creates new environmental health inspection requirements);
  • reductions in the size of both Federal and State public service and greater legal requirements (eg building fire safety inspections now done by Councils and higher workplace safety standards affecting all employers);
  • and greater demand for local services (eg recycling or immunisation of school children against Meningococcal C).

How do Councils operate?
Councils largely operate autonomously within the framework of the legislation and are primarily accountability to their local communities. They are generally not subject to Ministerial direction by either State or Federal Governments. Sometimes, such as in the area of planning and development, Councils work jointly with the State Government, and their decisions may be subject to advice and direction from State Government. To find out more about the legal framework for Local Government or you can find the Local Government Act 1999 and other relevant legislation on the SA Parliamentary website

To find out what Councils do click here.

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