Dr. Rosemary Kiss has made an important contribution over many years to discussions on the role of local government in Victoria. She was a councillor in the former Fitzroy Council (now Yarra City Council) and most recently was a Research Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Melbourne. As an expert on our local government system, she offers the following insight for new councillors.
“It is crucial for councillors and local citizens to understand that the central task of local government is to interpret and implement, with the greatest probity and to the best of its ability, the Local Government Act and other applicable legislation enacted by the Victorian Parliament. As part of its funding structure and agency role, local government also receives direction from the Commonwealth Government.
The need to work within a legislative framework and under the scrutiny of other spheres of government means local government is not totally free to act within or on behalf of its constituency. Nevertheless local governments generally have a wide range of responsibilities and associated powers.
Local governments, acting together with local residents and groups, and collectively, including through their peak bodies, can help shape the views of other governments and bring about changes in policies and laws to improve the way a country defines itself.
Local government is a keystone of democracy. We may live in an era when universally accessible global media bring to our daily attention the entanglements of nations in creating and sometimes solving international disasters. As a result, it may seem that presidents, prime ministers and other powerful figures and forces dominate our cultural and social as well as our political and economic environments, leaving us disempowered despite the claims of democracy, freedom and human or individual rights.
Such circumstances reinforce the need to regroup at the grass roots and to reclaim a sense of our individual and collective democratic responsibilities and capacities. Good local government can strengthen the sense of active, instead of passive belonging, which is essential to any country that claims to be a democracy.”