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Local government matters most, new Australian research finds

This major piece of social research, which has never been done before, demonstrates how and why communities value the activities and role of local governments. In the latter part of 2014, we surveyed more than 2000 Australians to find out why local government matters.

Australians prefer their governments local

One of the most startling findings of ACELG’s 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 an embarrassing two percent for the federal government.

Australians highly value 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 amongst the most important.

Local Government may not be recognised in Australia’s Constitution but we fail to acknowledge its place in our federation at our peril.    Australia’s Federation debate, triggered last year by the release of the issues paper, A Federation for our Future, is focussed largely on the roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth, the states and territories. We’ll be badly out of step with the community if we do not broaden the debate to more fully encompass local government.

Australians are hugely connected to their ‘castle’

The other one that is critical for our planners of cities is that Australians are hugely connected to “place”.

Agreement to statements we tested include: the landscape makes me feel good (77%), living here makes me feel good about myself (76%), and I feel connected locally to friends and neighbours (75%).

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 WA. 

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. We 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 our 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” — this is bureaucratic jargon for ring-fencing revenue to one spending stream, such as roads, health services or education.

Twenty seven percent 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.

Download the full report, Why Local Government Matters, at ACELG.

Author Bio

Roberta Ryan

Associate Professor Roberta Ryan is director of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government and UTS Centre for Local Government.