What is local government?

Local government in Tasmania

There are three spheres of government in Australia: the federal government, state or territory government and local government.

Local government, also called local councils, make decisions about many things that affect our everyday lives. Find out more about all the ways your Tasmanian councils help your community at Better Councils, Better Communities.

Tasmania has 29 councils.

The principal legislation establishing the powers and functions of Tasmania's councils is the Local Government Act 1993 (the Act). Section 20 describes the role of councils:

  • To provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community
  • To represent the interests of the community
  • To provide for the municipal area's peace, order and good government.

A council is a corporate body. The council as a whole, not individual elected members, constitute the legal entity. Council meetings must be held per the provisions of the Act.

Each council must develop a ten-year strategic and annual plan for the municipal area. Councils also prepare annual reports and hold annual general meetings.

Elected members

Councils consist of elected members known as councillors (or aldermen). Tasmanian councils have between 7–12 elected representatives.

The community of a whole municipal area elects the mayor, deputy mayor and councillors, as there are no councils in Tasmania that have electoral districts (or wards). Local government elections are conducted by postal ballot, and voting is compulsory.

The term of office of elected members, including mayors and deputy mayors, is four years.

Council operations

Councils around Tasmania provide a range of services to their local communities, including:

  • Road construction and maintenance
  • Street lighting
  • Rubbish collection
  • Stormwater drainage
  • Reticulated potable water
  • Some traffic or parking regulations
  • Planning and building services
  • Public health services - e.g. inspecting cafes, shops and manufacturing premises to check for hygienic conditions
  • Sporting ovals, parks and public reserves
  • Public swimming pools
  • Community halls
  • Community arts facilities
  • Some community services such as child care, immunisation services, services for young people and seniors and health promotion
  • Community festivals and events
  • Economic development and tourism.

Many of the functional responsibilities of councils are provided for in the legislation listed below.

To provide such a diverse range of services, councils in Tasmania employ over  3,771 people (2021-22) with various skills, such as clerical staff, computer operators and accountants to help with administration. Some councils employ specialist staff like traffic engineers, horticulturalists and builders to help design and manage public areas such as streets, gardens and public buildings. Other councils employ youth and social workers to provide services to meet specific social needs within the local community.

The income to provide these services is derived from taxes on property called rates, fees for services and grants or loans.

The implementation of council decisions and the day-to-day running of each council is the responsibility of its general manager or CEO. The responsibilities of the general manager are set out in the Local Government Act.

Legislative framework

As well as the Local Government Act 1993, other pieces of Tasmanian legislation have a significant impact on the operation and activities of councils, including:

These can also be accessed through the Tasmanian legislation website.

Under the Local Government Act 1993, councils can make by-laws about their functions and powers under any legislation.

There is also Commonwealth legislation that is relevant to Tasmanian councils.