Over the past 40 years, the scope of local government functions has expanded to incorporate a growing range of community services.
Around 50% of local government expenditure is now related to the provision of community services according to 2014-15 ABS figures (ABS Government Financial Statistics Cat. no. 5512.0, 2014-15). These services are being provided in addition to the services traditionally provided by local government, such as property-related services and roads. Yet despite an increase in spending on community services, Financial Assistance Grants from the Commonwealth to local government, which assist councils perform their functions, have decreased in real terms.
Local government’s role in community services is complex and diverse and interacts with the roles and responsibilities of other levels of government. Local government’s role in each state and territory is determined by the legislation of the relevant jurisdiction and much of ALGA’s work in this area is focused on working with the other levels of government, in particular the Commonwealth Government. Broadly, local government provides planning, coordination, policy development, and in many cases direct service provision of population-based public health and community services to their local communities. In particular, it provides services aimed at promoting healthy environments and community wellbeing.
ALGA is currently building the evidence base for increased general purpose funding, such as Financial Assistance Grants and community infrastructure funding, to support the delivery of human services by local government. This recognises the increased role of local government in building resilience and sustaining local government including through planning, coordination and delivery of community services.
Australia is a multicultural and diverse community. Being at the heart of its communities, local government plays an important role in assisting with the smooth settlement of new residents as well as fostering the inclusion and participation of all residents. Local government is also active in celebrating and promoting the benefits of cultural diversity.
Achieving positive settlement outcomes and integration into the community are important for the stability and prosperity of communities.
Many of Australia’s local government areas have large numbers of constituents from different cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. ALGA works closely with the Commonwealth to advance cultural diversity and represents local government concerns relating to citizenship, migration and settlement policy. ALGA also works closely with the Commonwealth and state governments in the re-settlement of refugees and asylum seekers so that appropriate support services, such as housing, education, health and trauma counselling are provided in a coordinated and strategic manner. Achieving positive settlement outcomes and integration into the community are important for the stability and prosperity of communities.
Health and Wellbeing
Local government plays a key role in addressing health issues through planning and the design of built environments and public spaces that supports physical activity and community engagement.
Councils provide a range of services which contribute to the health and wellbeing of their communities. These range from food inspection, maternal and child health, aged care services, immunisations, health and fitness programs, sport and recreation facilities, walking and bike paths, traffic calming, waste services, and preventative health programs to name a few. Healthy communities enjoy an improved quality of life and reduced incidence of illness, which in turn has significant economic and social benefits for the nation.
Indigenous Equity and Social Justice
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, whatever their circumstances, should receive equity of access to health, education, employment and other community services. Redressing the social and economic disadvantage of Indigenous peoples is urgent.
Local government recognises the need for a partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This includes direct participation of Indigenous Australians and their organisations in local and regional economic and strategic planning and development. Local government has a key role in advocating for the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Australians and promoting respect and understanding of these rights among the broader Australian community.
Local government is also a service provider to many remote communities. It is vital that essential service levels are maintained and where possible, improved. Not only for the quality of life of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in those communities, but also to ensure the continuity of their connection to country.