Local government key facts and figures
There are 537 councils Australia-wide. Of these, around 60% to 70% are regional or rural councils.
Local government employs 187,600 people which is nearly 10% of the total public sector (as at June 2018).
In 2016-17, local government collected $17.4 billion in rates.
Local government rates make up just 3.6% of tax raised by all levels of government and is the only tax levied by local government.
Local government’s total annual expenditure is $35.9 billion (2016-17).
The sector’s major expenditure items include housing and community amenities (24.3%), and transport and communications (21.5%) (2016-17).
Local roads add up to around 662,000kms in length (2017). This is approximately 75% of the total national road length – enough to circle the earth 16.5 times.
The value of local roads infrastructure in 2018 was $136.4 billion.
The replacement cost of local government land and fixed assets supporting the various economic (e.g. roads, buildings, water supply, etc.) and social services (e.g. health, welfare services, etc.) is in the order of $426 billion (2016-17).
General facts about local government
The first local government established in Australia was in Adelaide in 1840.
Australia’s largest council by population is Brisbane City Council, servicing a population of 1.2 million.
Australia’s largest council by area is East Pilbara in Western Australia. It covers an area of 379,571 square kilometres, has a population of 12,960 and 3,237 kilometres of roads.
Australia has had four Prime Ministers who served on local councils.
- John Gorton (Kerang Shire Council)
- Ben Chifley (Abercrombie Shire Council)
- Earle Page (South Grafton Council)
- Arthur Fadden (Townsville City Council)
Collectively, councils raise more than 80% of their own revenue with rates accounting for about 35% of this revenue.
Individual councils have differing abilities to raise revenue, based on location, population size, rate base and the ability to levy user charges.
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.
More than a quarter of total local government revenue comes from user charges.
Overall, grants and subsidies from the Australian and state/territory governments account for around 10% 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 also receive funding under a range of Australian Government programs, such as the Roads to Recovery program, Road Safety Black Spot program, Bridges Renewal Program and the Building Stronger Regions Fund.
Roles and responsibilities
Constitutional responsibility for local government lies with state and territory governments. Consequently, the roles and responsibilities of local government differ from state to state.
Local government services cross all areas and can 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
- other services, such as abattoirs, sale-yards and group purchasing schemes.