An opinion piece appeared recently in one of the country’s national news outlets, criticising Local Government for underperforming inefficiently and expensively. It also criticised the Treasurer for allowing, even condoning this to happen.

I note that amongst the apparently exorbitant salaries used to support the case, the one quoted as an average fulltime worker was from City of Sydney, which is possibly not a real average of all councils, although I have no proof of that.

The argument appeared to assume that councils are or should be run as a business. While this is now a common view, it does not actually allow for the unique place councils have in local communities.

Three items from my email inbox today give a different view of council’s function.

The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) are advertising a forum for discussing ways to transition away from gas as an energy source.

The event is offering ‘a diverse panel of experts who will explore the alternatives that will make up the way forward for councils in their mission to become truly carbon neutral’.

While much is said about reducing the country’s reliance on energy from brown coal, what was once the cleaner, greener option – LPG – is clean and green no more and much less easy to transition away from. Gas heaters, cookers and hot water can’t be changed over to solar, wind or wave power.  

“If councils aim to become carbon-neutral, the problem of gas needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,” the brochure reads.
Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) announced that local government was the lifestyle level of government because the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed Queensland councils had ‘cracked $1 billion on capital and recurrent spending on sport and recreation to 30 June 2018’.

LGAQ CEO, Greg Hallam, wrote, “Think cricket, every code of footy, netball, swimming, tennis, athletics, show grounds, gymkhanas and horse sports, racecourses, lifesaving on our beaches and so many more suburban, town or regional facilities as well as a commitment to provide opportunities that meet diverse needs and abilities.

“These are the activities that are vital to our health and wellbeing, our community connection and something that ignites us all.”

On top of operational costs, councils fund culture and the arts, libraries, parks and gardens, walking and bike trails, keep the grass roots, special interest, community groups running, not for turning a profit but for knitting communities together.

Port Augusta, South Australia, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Substance Misuse Service, an amalgamation of the Sobering up Unit and Mobile Assistance Patrol. One of the Service’s stated goals is to ‘enhance the health and wellbeing of the Port Augusta community’.

What price does a community put on that?