Latrobe Council

Role of Local Government Misunderstood

12 October 2015

Dr Katrena Stephenson, CEO of the Local Government Association of Tasmania responds to symplistic calls for amalgamation if there was a single planning scheme. "It made me acutely aware how little both land use planning and the role of Local Government are understood in the broader community."

"This week, I was asked if a single planning scheme for Tasmania meant that councils could be amalgamated. It made me acutely aware how little both land use planning and the role of Local Government are understood in the broader community. Planning is just one of a myriad of functions undertaken by Local Government, either as statutory agents for state and federal governments, or at the behest of their communities.

In the early years, Local Government was responsible for building roads for newly formed towns, rural roads, wharves, jetties and bridges. The logic of the colonial masters, that local communities should manage issues important at the local level, still applies today. As a consequence, Local Government’s role has expanded from building roads, bridges and public buildings to providing a wide range of community services such as sport and recreational facilities, community care, health and welfare services. Increasingly, the Commonwealth and State Government’s look to Local Government to enforce legislation at the local level and deliver initiatives at the grass roots.

In any given day, your Council is likely managing roads, streets, pavements, traffic lights, bridges and car parks. It is making sure stormwater and drainage systems don’t fail. It is recycling and managing your waste. It is ensuring that development aligns with community expectations and ensures that buildings are of the required standard. It will be considering how climate change might impact on the community and how to mitigate the effects for the next generation. It will be undertaking local environmental management initiatives, conserving biodiversity and water. It will be geared up to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. Your Council will be providing cultural and sporting venues, events and opportunities. It is immunising your children, ensuring your drinking water is safe and that where you eat is not going to make you sick. Many councils also provide social welfare programs such as childcare, aged care, community gardens and youth programs. They will be actively working to ensure vibrant communities through economic development and tourism programs, and the list continues.

As the closest level of government to the community, councils are in a unique position to identify community needs and make sure those needs are met. As a consequence, no two councils are exactly the same and that difference can be what makes a council special to those who live in the Municipal Area.

This is not to say there is not opportunity for reform in Tasmania and nationally. But the argument to simply change geographic boundaries is a simplistic one that fails to strategically take into account the community and operational drivers of a complex and diverse business. What is clear from all the research on Local Government reform is that in order for amalgamations to be successful, the new entities must be carefully designed, have a strong level of community support and be viable. Further, the cost of deciding whether or not to merge, as well as the cost of implementation, must be well understood and minimised. There has been a significant history of underestimating these costs and overestimating the potential savings.

And then I get back to planning. Even under a single Tasmanian Planning Scheme, your Council will work with you to ensure that development is appropriate to the location. It will decide with the community where the zones are applied (colouring in the map so to speak), as well as where there needs to be special consideration of local circumstances. While there will be many more permitted pathways for development, council officers will still be there making sure development does comply with the requirements set at the state and local level. Councillors will still consider those matters which fall outside the normal parameters and consider the varying views made through representations to determine the best overall outcome for the community.

In considering the role of Local Government in planning, it is worth remembering that the system is a state one, implemented at the local level by councils as statutory planning authorities; and assessment timeframes in Tasmania are already significantly less than other states and there is no evidence to directly link current timeframe performance with the rate of development in Tasmania."

Dr Katrene Stephenson
Local Government Association of Tasmania

Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size

Contact Us

Council Address
PO Box 63
170 Gilbert Street
Latrobe Tasmania 7307
Opening Hours
Monday - Friday
8.00am - 4.30pm
Emergency After Hours: 03 6426 2653