Local Government inquiries leave much 'unfinished business'

Over the past decade numerous state and national inquiries have recommended major changes in the operations of Australian Local Government.

But only limited progress has been made in implementing those changes, leaving a great deal of 'unfinished business'.

Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government's latest working paper: 'Unfinished Business: A Decade of Inquires into Australian Local Government', looks at the findings, recommendations and outcomes of nine major national and State inquiries into Local Government conducted between 2001 and 2008.

Based on research conducted by Brian Dollery, Professor of Economics at the University of NewEngland, the paper was compiled by ACELG's Director, Graham Sansom.

It explores three key questions.

First, what have been the major themes and ideas to emerge?

Second, to what extent have the principal findings and recommendations been implemented?

Third, how much unfinished business remains to be transacted in order to place Australian local government on a sounder footing?

The paper then sets out a 'continuing agenda' for action.

Graham Sansom said a significant number of recommendations of the inquiries have been reflected in policy and legislative change, but generally responses to the inquiries have been patchy.

"The evident differences of opinion between State and Local Governments on priorities for further reform have slowed the process of change." he said.

The paper points to two underlying constraints on implementation:

State Governments tend not to respond to inquiry recommendations unless they initiate and control the agenda themselves.

Despite commissioning several of the inquiries, Local Government itself has mostly failed to assemble and prosecute packages of reforms that are acceptable to councils generally, and that also appeal to other key stakeholders – especially State Governments.

It also suggests that the Federal Government has been slow to act in more limited areas for which it has responsibility, notably, repeated findings that the system of distributing general purpose financial assistance grants to local councils should be re examined.

However, a review has recently been announced, and together with a review of the inter government agreement on 'cost shifting' and the upcoming national Tax Forum, it could lead to significant change.

The paper can be downloaded from the ACELG home page: www.acelg.org.au