This year’s local government elections have already been marked by an unprecedented high level of turnover of mayors and councillors. Some commentators have suggested the increased size and scale of councils is bringing new challenges and responsibilities. Increased accountability and cost of living pressures are all contributing factors to the high attrition rate. Seventeen mayors are standing down including mayors of key councils like the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Townsville and Mackay. A number of mayors also face stiff challenges including Cairns’ Val Schier and Whitsundays’ Mike Brunker. The end result will be that local government’s “Class of 2012” will be full of fresh faces.
Significant reforms in the local government sector over the last couple of years have triggered some major changes to the way councils operate. The days of “roads, rates and rubbish” are drawing to a close with contemporary local governments not only delivering the basics, but also encouraging business investment and building community infrastructure.
The amalgamation process reduced the number of local governments from 156 to 73 and in the process created a number of super councils. In fact, five of the six largest councils in Australia, by population, are located in Queensland. Elsewhere councils including Toowoomba, Western Downs and Maranoa, are now significant regional entities playing a major role in shaping the economic and social destiny of their regions.
For business, a good relationship with local government is a critical part of maintaining a social license to operate. As community leaders and representatives, councils have the resources and influence to martial public opinion to oppose or support a project. The community planning process is another way councils can wield considerable control over the destiny of their communities.
It is important to get councils onside at the commencement of a project rather than try and repair an already broken relationship. If you would like to discuss the best way to work with local councils, please call the Government and Public Affairs team on (07) 3229 4499.