It’s not all just rates, roads and rubbish

For anyone who has spent any of their time in a council meeting one thing is inevitable – someone will ask if what is being discussed is “the role of local government”.

In fact, at some Northern councils hearing that question at every meeting has the same surety in life as death and taxes.

The old adage of your local council bearing the responsibility for rates, roads and rubbish just does not cut it.

Times are changing and it is not surprising to see councils across Australia taking a stance on various social and economic issues, from climate change to same-sex marriage.

But there continues to be an ever-present struggle between the old and the new.

Councillors or aldermen who bring fresh ideas to the table often face a number of questions. What right does local government have in this matter? Why should local government have an opinion? 

The principal legislation establishing the powers and functions of councils is the Local Government Act 1993.

Section 20 describes the role of councils, which is to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community, to represent the interests of the community and to provide for the peace, order and good government of the municipal area.

Across the state this legal definition is applied in various ways, from the strict and traditional to the boundary-pushing.

Services provided by councils are diverse and often depend on the size and population of the area.

They can range from community arts and festivals, tourism initiatives, community services, such as child care centres, planning and building matters, water, traffic, parking and maintenance of community facilities, such as halls, pools and parks.

While each council develops its own set of policies and objectives, it seems strange that issues can be deemed monumental for some and inconsequential for others.

Perhaps the legal definition needs refining or perhaps aldermen, councillors and council officers should give some weight to those with out-of-the-box ideas.

While all ratepayers want to ensure their money is being well-spent, there is a new generation of home-buyers and investors who want to know where their councils stand on more than the basic issues.

After all, a 21st century council is judged on its ability to directly influence people’s lives not just their livelihood.