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How local government works

What does local government do?

Local governments create and enforce local laws, manage services and activities which are adapted to the needs of the community they serve.

Example of services that councils provide include:

  • local roads and infrastructure
  • parks maintenance and pools
  • water and sewerage
  • waste collection
  • animal management (e.g. pet registration)
  • urban planning, building services and protection of heritage buildings or vegetation
  • local laws for advertising signage, food businesses, large community events and other matters
  • parking management
  • community facilities such as meeting halls, libraries and malls management
  • immunisation services
  • complaints about neighbours.

How are these services funded?

There are six main ways that local governments raise money to provide infrastructure and services to communities:

  • rates and charges
  • fees, permits and registrations
  • profits from council-owned businesses including childcare centres, public housing, sporting and recreational facilities and transport services
  • grants and subsidies
  • loans
  • developer contributions and charges levied on land being developed and used to pay for water and sewerage, roads and public recreation spaces.

Councils must document the processes used to raise revenue. These documents are publicly available and include the corporate plan, operational plan, revenue policy, revenue statement and budget, and annual report.

Code of Conduct

A Code of Conduct (PDF, 150KB) outlines how behavioural standards align with the local government principles and assists all councillors in being aware of their obligations as elected representatives.

Under the Code of Conduct, the standards of behaviour are summarised in ‘the three Rs’, being:

  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Reputation

Each standard of behaviour includes several examples to guide councillors in complying with the Code of Conduct. By adhering to the behaviours set out in the Code of Conduct, councillors will increase public confidence in local government and its decisions.

The Code of Conduct provides a set of values that describe the types of conduct councillors should demonstrate.

These include:

  • make decisions in the public interest
  • ensure effective and economical delivery of services
  • represent and meaningfully engage with the community
  • clearly and accurately explain council decisions
  • accept and value differences of opinion
  • exercise good governance
  • develop open and transparent processes and procedures
  • meet the community’s expectations for high level leadership.

The Code of Conduct reinforces the five local government principles:

  • transparent and effective processes, and decision making in the public interest
  • sustainable development and management of assets and infrastructure, and delivery of effective services
  • democratic representation, social inclusion and meaningful community engagement
  • good governance of, and by, the local government
  • ethical and legal behaviour of councillors, local government employees and councillor advisors.

Working as part of a team

Local government decisions are taken by a majority vote of all the elected councillors. Each councillor in the council chamber has an equal vote (even the mayor has a single vote). That means a decision by a majority of votes is considered a decision of local government. In the case of a tied vote, the mayor, acting as chairperson, can exercise a casting vote.

The collective will and decision-making of council is paramount and an individual councillor's views are secondary to the majority view. If you find yourself in the minority on a particular topic, once a majority decision is taken by council, you should not seek to undermine the decision because you did not personally vote in favour of it. If you are in the council chamber and you choose not to vote on a matter you are deemed to have voted in the negative (i.e. against the proposal).

It is important to remember that you are elected to represent the overall public interest of the whole local government area.

Working as a mayor

As mayor you have the same responsibilities that other councillors have, plus additional roles.

In all councils other than the Brisbane City Council, the mayor is the chairperson who presides over the council meetings and is responsible for managing the conduct of the participants at these meetings. Under the City of Brisbane Act 2010, Brisbane City Council appoints a chairperson from its councillors (other than the mayor or deputy mayor) at its first meeting after the office of the chairperson becomes vacant. The chairperson then presides over all meetings of the council.

The mayor is also responsible for:

  • working with the other councillors to prepare the annual budget
  • leading, managing and providing strategic direction to the chief executive officer
  • directing the chief executive officer in line with council’s approved policy position or decisions
  • conducting an annual performance appraisal of the chief executive officer
  • ensuring the council promptly provides the Minister for Local Government with information when it is requested
  • participating as a member of each standing committee
  • representing the local government at ceremonial and civic functions.

As mayor, you are the most visible and high-profile councillor in the local government and the person viewed as responsible for the performance of the council.

If you nominate as a mayoral candidate, you cannot nominate as a councillor candidate as well.

How do councillors and staff work together?

The Local Government Act 2009 clearly distinguishes between the roles and responsibilities of the executive (elected councillors) and the administrative (council employees) areas of local government. This is sometimes referred to as the separation of powers.

The primary role of councillors is to focus on policy development and strategic delivery of services in the public interest. Local government decisions are made to direct the operational work and realise the planned goals that are set out in the local government's corporate plan.

Councillors are responsible for:

  • planning and developing corporate plans and strategies to deliver outcomes to the community
  • providing strategic vision and leadership.

The internal day-to-day work of the local government is carried out by local government employees under the direction of the chief executive officer.

Last updated: 09 Nov 2021