Why local government matters

A scene from The Castle. Pic: YouTube.


The Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS:CLG) for the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) have been undertaking national research into community attitudes to local government since 2015. Lead researcher Associate Professor Roberta Ryan highlights some key aspects about this major piece of social research and demonstrates how and why communities value the activities and role of local governments.

The view of local government as being confined to roads, rates and rubbish is long gone, in both practice and in terms of what communities expect. Australians want local government to be responsible for a diversity of activities in their local community, with planning for the future being among the most important.

As part of our research Why Local Government Matters we asked over 2,500 Australians a variety of questions about their attitudes to local government. We asked about the place where they live; we wanted to know what makes people feel good about where they live;  and what makes their place ‘tick’ and feel like home.

The research also investigated through a range of questions the role of government: How do people want their services delivered? How do people want to be involved in government? What do people think about local government?

Key findings

Australians prefer their governments local

One of the most striking findings of the research is that about 75% of Australians surveyed think local government is best able to make decisions about their local areas. This is compared with 26% for state government and two percent for the federal government.

Australians value highly governments that are ‘close’ to the community and they want local government to be responsible for a diversity of activities with, interestingly, planning for the future being the most important.

Australians are hugely connected to their ‘castle’

The other finding that is critical for planners of our cities is that Australians are hugely connected to ‘place’.

An astounding 88% of Australians strongly or moderately agree they feel at home in the place where they live. There are similarly high levels of agreement when asking whether they feel connected to friends and neighbours (75%), and whether the place where they live has the qualities they value (78%); landscapes that make them feel good (77%); and makes them feel good about themselves (76%).

Local governments matter because of their role as a ‘place-shaper’ and their importance in meeting the needs that most drive people’s attachment to and satisfaction with the area in which they live.

This strongly plays into the amalgamation debate, playing out in NSW and elsewhere.

 Public versus Private

Australians overwhelmingly (93%) want the government, rather than the private sector, to provide services to the community. And they want more than just basic services from government. Over half (61%) disagree that governments should focus on providing only basic services compared with 18% that agree.

And contrary to many pundits, Australians think government provides value for money. The research found that 45% of respondents disagree that the private sector delivers the best-value services. Only 26% agree that the private sector delivers the best value.

There is enormous support for government to deliver services for a healthier and fairer society, and for the proposition that decisions about services should not be made just on value for money.

More tax – for more services

And, in one of the most surprising findings, the majority of people agree that taxes should pay for more than basic services and many say they are prepared to pay more taxes to receive a broader range of services.

This is particularly so when the tax is ‘hypothecated’ – in other words ring-fencing revenue to one spending stream, such as roads, health services or education. 27% of respondents moderately agree with the ‘more taxes’ proposition, while a further 16% of respondents strongly agree – about a quarter of respondents (23%) strongly disagree.

Where to from here?

There is enormous support for government to deliver services for a healthier and fairer society, and for the proposition that decisions about services should not be made just on value for money. According to the research, Australians overwhelmingly (93%) want to be involved with government in making decisions about what services are delivered in their local area.

Why Local Government Matters is an important resource and reference for Australian local government and other tiers of government, organisations and agencies that work closely with councils. The results are also invaluable for broader debates about reform of the sector, the role of local government in the federation, and immediate local-level issues such as service delivery, community participation in council decision-making, financial sustainability, and the wellbeing of local government areas.

Associate Professor Roberta Ryan, Director UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance, UTS Centre for Local Government, University of Technology Sydney

 Why Local Government Matters report and resources can be downloaded from the UTS:CLG website http://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/public-policy-and-governance/about-institute/about-acelg/why

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