The Australian Local Government Association is the national voice of local government, representing 560 councils across the country.
In structure, ALGA is a federation of state and territory local government associations. Since 2001, membership has included the Government of the Australian Capital Territory (uniquely in Australia, the ACT Government combines both state and local government functions).
Key activities include representation of local government on national bodies and ministerial councils, providing submissions to government and parliamentary inquiries, raising the profile and concerns of local government at the national level and providing forums for local government to guide the development of national local government policies.
ALGA's strategic priorities are:
- Strengthening local government finances
- Sustaining local roads, transport and other infrastructure
- Improving natural and built environmental outcomes
- Enhancing regional equity and regional development
- Building capacity and sustainability in local communities
- Connecting member associations and the Local Government sector
- Engaging effectively in Australian Government processes
As one of Australia's three spheres of government, local government is represented by ALGA's President on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). This peak government body brings together the Prime Minister, state premiers, territory chief ministers and the ALGA President to develop responses to issues of concern to all three spheres of government.
ALGA was founded in 1947 and, in 1976, established a secretariat in Canberra reflecting growing links with the Australian Government and an awareness of local government's emerging national role.
The Association's policies are determined by the ALGA Board, consisting of two representatives from each of the member associations and two from the ACT Government.
ALGA's leadership team comprises the President and two Vice Presidents. The secretariat is managed by the Chief Executive.
Major events convened by ALGA each year include the National General Assembly of Local Government and the National Local Roads and Transport Congress.
The National General Assembly is usually held in Canberra during November. The first National General Assembly of Local Government was held in 1994, replacing ALGA's annual conference. The expanded format turned the conference into a true gathering, or parliament, of local government, creating a united voice on the core issues affecting local communities.
The National General Assembly brings together several hundred delegates from councils across Australia to move and debate resolutions of concern to local government. Speakers include prominent local government leaders, national political leaders and leading Australian experts and academics from fields of interest and relevance to local government.
The annual National Local Roads Congress is held mid-year in regional Australia. Delegates from local government gather to discuss transport and road issues of concern to local government. Roads owned and maintained by local government (local roads) account for about 85% of the entire Australian road network. Delegates hear from political leaders, transport officials, leading technical and policy experts and share best practice experience.
ALGA provides a range of services to its member associations and, through them, local councils throughout Australia. These include:
- information on national issues, policies and trends affecting local government via the Internet, newsletters, special reports and conferences
- representation on national bodies including the Council of Australian Governments, Ministerial Councils, intergovernmental committees and specialist bodies, including United Cities and Local Governments
- liaison and negotiation with a wide range of Commonwealth ministers and departments, shadow ministers and political parties, as well as other national organisations related to local government
- policy development to provide a local government perspective on national affairs
- special projects aimed at enhancing local government's capacity and status in key areas of national concern
- lobbying the Australian Government and Parliament on specific issues and running campaigns to secure agreed policy objectives
About local government
The first local government in Australia was established in Adelaide in 1840. Today, there are around 560 local government bodies in Australia accountable to a diverse range of metropolitan, regional, rural, and Indigenous communities. Of these, 539 are regional/rural.
There are about 6,600 elected councillors in Australia with an average of just under 10 councillors per council.
Although local government has been in existence for more than 160 years, it is not yet recognised in the Australian Constitution.
One of the great strengths of local government is its diversity. The population and geographic size of councils differ greatly. The largest local government authority by population is the Brisbane City Council with 970,000 residents. The average council population is 28,400. The largest council by area is the Shire of East Pilbara in WA covering 379,000 square kilometres (population 5,500).
Local councils spend more than $20 billion each year providing an increasingly broad range of infrastructure, economic and community services to residents. In total, councils employ around 178,000 people (almost 10% of the total public sector).
Local government roles and responsibilities
Constitutional responsibility for local government lies with the state and territory governments. Consequently, the roles and responsibilities of local government differ from state to state. Functions include:
- infrastructure and property services, including local roads, bridges, footpaths, drainage, waste collection and management
- provision of recreation facilities, such as parks, sports fields and stadiums, golf courses, swimming pools, sport centres, halls, camping grounds and caravan parks
- health services such as water and food inspection, immunisation services, toilet facilities, noise control and meat inspection and animal control
- community services, such as child care, aged care and accommodation, community care and welfare services
- building services, including inspections, licensing, certification and enforcement
- planning and development approval
- administration of facilities, such as airports and aerodromes, ports and marinas, cemeteries, parking facilities and street parking;
- cultural facilities and services, such as libraries, art galleries and museums
- water and sewerage services in some states
- other services, such as abattoirs, sale-yards and group purchasing schemes
Local government revenue comes from three main sources - taxation (rates), user charges and grants from Federal and state/territory governments. A fourth source, categorised as 'miscellaneous' by the ABS, consists of revenue raised through the likes of investment interest, dividend interest, income from public enterprise and fines.
Rates account for about 38 percent of total revenue. Rates comprise just 3 percent of tax raised by all levels of government and is the only tax levied by local government, of 260 taxes in AUstralia.
About one third of total local government revenue comes from user charges.
Overall, grants and subsidies from the Australian and state/territory governments account for around 17 percent of total revenue. For some rural and remote councils where own-source revenue raising capacity is limited, grants can account for more than 50% of council revenue.
The Australian Government provides financial assistance grants to local government. These are paid to state governments for distribution to local government via state grants commissions.
Councils are able to apply for funding under a range of Australian Government programs, such as the Road Safety Black Spot program and the Regional Solutions program.
Local government assets have a net worth of more than $212 billion (2005-06).