The system of government
In Australia there are three tiers of elected government – local, state and federal.
Statutory responsibility for local government lies with each Australian state or territory. An Act of each state parliament specifies local government powers, duties and functions. This means that the roles and responsibilities of local councils sometimes vary from state to state.
In Victoria, the legal basis for councils is established under the Constitution Act 1975 and the Local Government Act 1989.
Councils are representative governments elected to manage local issues and to establish and plan for the community’s needs. In practice, each municipality is distinct and while there are some common services across local government there is also a degree of diversity. This diversity responds to the differing make up and priorities of communities across Victoria.
Local Councils in Victoria
In Victoria there are 79 councils. Each council varies in size, population, rate base and resources, but all must operate in accordance with the Local Government Act.
Local government has a significant impact on the lives of all Victorians. Councils spend over $4 billion annually to provide a wide range of services and facilities for their communities. They work in partnership with the local community, a whole range of state and federal government programs, and with other agencies, to deliver these services. They are responsible for over $40 billion worth of assets and infrastructure.
Councils are complex organisations that provide and maintain a wide diversity of public buildings, amenities and services. The largest councils are in the top 100 employers in the state while smaller rural councils are often the largest employer in their region.
For more information about each council area, please visit the Find your local council section.
Note: Some parts of Victoria are not incorporated into local government areas. This includes French Island, Docklands and a number of Alpine Resorts.
Local Government Peak Bodies
Victorian councils have four main representative bodies. These are the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA), Local Government Professionals (LGPro) and the Australian Services Union (ASU).
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) is the oldest representative and advocacy body for Victoria's 79 local councils. It was established in 1879 and became the official representative body of Victorian local government in 1907. Its membership consists only of councils.
The MAV describes its role as representing and advocating on behalf of the local government sector, providing policy advice and insurance services, and improving the profile of the local government sector.
The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) formed in 1995. It has three membership groups – local councils, community organisations and individuals.
The VLGA describes its role as promoting the interests of local governments and community, empowering local governments by strengthening their capacity to engage with their communities and advocating on their behalf.
Local Government Professionals (LGPro) is the professional body representing local council officers.
LGPro was created in 1996/97 and includes the Victorian Division of Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA); the Victorian Division of the Institute of Public Works & Engineering of Australia (IPWEA); and the Victorian Association of the Local Government Community Services Association of Australia (LGCSAA). It also auspices 16 professional networks of council officers.
LGPro describes its role as providing professional programs, facilitating positive communication between the sector and State and Federal Government, and representing the views of officers where this expert advice is required in the consultation process on legislation and policy and program development. While it is a member organisation, non-members access many of its activities and services.
The Australian Services Union (ASU) is one of Australia’s largest trade unions. It was formed in 1993 as an amalgamation of a number of unions. The ASU represents about 140,000 members in local government, energy, water, public transport, rail, airlines, shipping, travel, ports, social and community services, information technology, call centres and private sector clerical and administrative employment.
The National Local Government Division is the largest industry in the Australian Services Union, making up about half of the union's membership. Its membership consists of individual council employees.
State governments in Australia were established before either federal or local governments. In 1855 the British government enacted legislation that approved self government and a constitution for the colony of Victoria. Following federation in 1901 Victoria became a state of the new nation of Australia.
Each Australian state government has its own constitution, which sets out its powers and responsibilities. States typically look after services like policing, public schools, roads and traffic, public hospitals, public housing, and business regulation.
The Victorian Government currently includes 20 ministers and 10 government departments. The Parliament of Victoria website contains a linked list of the current Ministry and the respective government departments. For a link to the various government departments by subject heading, try Victoria Online.
Minister for Local Government
One of the Ministers in the Victorian Government is the Minister for Local Government. The Minister for Local Government is The Hon Jeanette Powell MP.
The Minister is responsible for administering the following principal Acts:
Municipal Association Act 1907
The Minister also acts as advocate for local government issues within government and, through the department (Local Government Victoria) supports and monitors the system of local government.
The Minister is not directly involved in the detailed management of individual councils.
Local Government Victoria
Local Government Victoria (LGV) is a division of the Victorian Government’s Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD).
LGV supports and advises the Minister for Local Government in administering the Local Government Act. LGV’s every day work includes supporting, encouraging and monitoring Victoria’s 79 local councils. It provides councils with advice about a range of matters including governance.
LGV also administers the funding for some council activities. The Grants Commission is a major source of council funding. LGV also provides funding programs to public libraries. See Planning and finance for more details.
Apart from ensuring compliance with the Local Government Act, LGV does not become involved in the detailed management of individual councils. As a last resort, LGV may refer a complaint about a serious breach of the Local Government Act or other law to the independent Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate.
The Australian Federal Government, while not directly involved in the regulation or administration of local government, does support local government through a number of programs including the provision of funding through financial assistance grants as well as encouraging innovation in local government through the National Awards for Local Government.
The Federal Minister for Local Government is The Hon Anthony Albanese MP.