Local Government at Work in the Community

Local Government at Work in the Community

Hawkesbury City Council is one of the 172 Local Government Authorities in New South Wales. They all provide government of the local area by local people.

Originally, in New South Wales, the major responsibility of councils was constructing local roads and sanitation.

As the local communities grew so did the demand for additional local services. Local councils took on an expanded role in providing services to meet the needs of the local community . Today these areas include recreational, social, cultural and environmental matters.

Government Closest to the People

Because Local Government is government of the local area by local people, it is often described as the sphere of government closest to the people. As a community government its activities will largely reflect local needs. Much of council's decision making is an expression of new and ongoing community needs.

Services required by a fast growing area, such as Hawkesbury, will be very different to those of an established inner urban council and likewise a small rural council. The demography or population breakdown of the local area is the key factor here. For example, fast growing areas attract many young families so there is a heavy demand for family and children's services and youth services. Established areas usually have a larger proportion of older people creating a greater demand for services such as home help and delivered meals.

It has often been said that Local Government's role could be described as the three "R's" -roads, rates and rubbish. It is true these are important areas of the work undertaken by councils, but today councils do much more than this.

The New South Wales Local Government Act (1993) states that the general purpose of the new Act is to:

  • provide the legal framework for an effective, efficient and open system of Local Movement in New South Wales;
  • regulate the relationships between the people and bodies comprising the system of Local Government in New South Wales;
  • encourage and assist the effective participation of local communities in the affairs of Local Government; and
  • give Local Government:
  • the ability to provide goods, services, amenities and facilities, and to carry out activities, appropriate to the current and future needs of local communities and of the wider public
  • the responsibility for administering some regulatory systems
  • a role in the management, improvement and development of the resources of their areas.

Types of Councils

In New South Wales, all Local Governments are called councils. Some, such as Hawkesbury City Council, are referred to as city councils, while others are called shires. Although shires are usually rural, some of Sydney's outer councils still retain the title shire, such as Sutherland and Hornsby Shires. In all councils, elected representatives are called councillors and the leader of council is known as the mayor.

Council is usually divided into wards with a number of councillors representing each ward. In Hawkesbury, however, the Council area is not divided, so all councillors represent the whole City.

The Role of Councillors

The role of a Councillor, as an elected person, is to represent the interests of residents and ratepayers, to provide leadership and guidance to the community and to facilitate communication between the community and the Council.

With some issues, groups in the community may actively try to convince council to make a particular decision. For example, bicycle users might want bike paths made or a group of residents may be concerned about plans to remove some trees. These groups are called Pressure Groups. Some are highly organised, permanent groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, while others are less formal, forming over a particular issue then disbanding once the matter is resolved.

Each year, the councillors elect one councillor to be the mayor. He or she presides over council meetings and represents council at formal functions.

Councillors are not paid a salary but receive an annual allowance of $11,770 to help cover expenses in fulfilling their role on council. They generally carry out their council duties in addition to their full time job in the workforce and/or commitments in the home. They cannot be expected to know all the details required for every issue discussed by council Nor have they the time to research all matters for themselves.   

Council staff provide reports to council to assist councillors in their decision making. For example, the council's engineers have the expertise to provide information on which footpaths require maintenance works, the cost of this work in the current financial year and how much more it could cost if this work is delayed. 

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