The principles and practice of local government in the Australian three-tiered system of government: With special reference to the roles of state and local government in New South Wales

Author: Peter Abelson

This paper discusses the role of local government in the three-tiered system of government in Australia, with special reference to the roles of state and local government in New South Wales. Drawing on public finance principles, Section 2 finds that local government should be the primary provider of local public goods and services and have a substantial role in the provision of social welfare services. The following two sections are descriptive. Section 3 outlines the current nature and size of local government across Australia along with some international comparisons. Section 4 describes the legal basis and nature of local government in NSW. Section 5 introduces the major local council issues which are discussed in the following sections. These include the optimal structure of local councils, local council governance, financial and economic issues, land use planning, provision of local infrastructure, environmental services and policies, and the provision of social and community services. A constant theme is the roles of the three levels of government, with local councils subject to the regulations set by the relevant state government. Although much of the detailed analysis draws on NSW, many of the issues and findings apply nationally. The paper concludes that, notwithstanding that local government is a relatively small third tier of government in Australia, local government is an important provider of local public services of all kinds, including local infrastructure and welfare services and should be granted more autonomy.

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