1.1 Establish a Tasmanian Local Government Charter which summarises councils’ role and obligations, and establishes a practical set of decision-making principles for councils
Councils have an extensive range of complex responsibilities under a suite of interrelated statutory frameworks. This reform would clarify those responsibilities for councillors and communities, providing a framework which underpins the role of councils and councillors.
Broadly, a Charter would:
- set out councils’ role and responsibilities in one place;
- summarise all of councils’ core statutory roles and functions;
- better clarify the roles of State and local government in service areas where both have responsibilities;
- establish a practical set of decision-making principles, including around setting service priorities, particularly as they relate to essential statutory functions vs ‘optional’ services or activities;
- enshrine good governance principles and clearly explain how these must be applied in practice to the respective roles, functions, obligations, and expected conduct of both elected members and council staff (including how they are linked to relevant compliance powers and under the legislated regulatory framework, including codes of conduct); and
- provide a framework that enables these principles to be translated into practical processes and mechanisms for better and more transparent decision-making.
There is precedent for this approach in other jurisdictions. In recent years, New South Wales and Victoria have both legislated principles-based roles for councils and elected officials, underpinning good governance with corporate director-like responsibilities across financial management, strategic planning, community engagement, and elected official behaviour.
In Victoria, the Local Government Act 2020 describes the practical roles of councils, while also mandating the principles which must be applied when performing this role. For example, under the Victorian Act, councils must adopt a community engagement policy which outlines how and when they engage with their communities (and what on). This is underpinned by the Act’s principles for community engagement. This approach establishes the key responsibilities in legislation, while ensuring that councils can still tailor the delivery of functions to their local circumstances.
1.2 Embed community wellbeing considerations into key council strategic planning and service delivery processes
We have heard from the local government sector, peak bodies, and communities that there should be greater recognition of the role that councils play in supporting the wellbeing of their communities. However, there is a lack of clarity around what the concept of wellbeing includes. As a result, councils’ contribution to community wellbeing is not formally recognised, making it hard for them to access funding to continue or expand their wellbeing work.
This option would provide councils greater clarity on how they can support wellbeing, providing guidance on strategic planning and the delivery of locally tailored wellbeing services. It would also help identify services and functional responsibilities for the State Government and private service providers.
In May 2022, the Tasmanian Premier, the Hon Jeremy Rockliff MP, announced the development of Tasmania’s first Wellbeing Framework, noting that the concept of wellbeing includes economy, health, education, safety, housing, living standards, environment and climate, social inclusion and connection, identity and belonging, good governance and access to services.
Clear and transparent linkages to any overarching Tasmanian Government state-wide wellbeing policies and frameworks will be essential to support the sector in remaining accountable to their communities. These connections will also enable councils to work with others to develop locally tailored strategies and actions to address identified community issues.
- Defining wellbeing is critical, and for local government this will likely depend on the emerging Tasmanian Wellbeing Framework.
- Local government already undertakes many activities and actions to promote wellbeing but is financially constrained.
- Wellbeing is an area where councils could act as vital advocates or ‘connectors’. Where service or resource gaps are identified, councils could and should advocate to other spheres of government to fill them.
- In health, local government should focus on early intervention and prevention, and other spheres of government should ensure they are appropriately providing the services they are typically tasked with, including primary health services.
- There is a fundamental need for spheres of government to work together to address social disadvantage and the poverty cycle. For many Tasmanians, wellbeing outcomes are dire, and persist from one generation to the next.
- A more equitable, needs-based distribution of resources between wealthier and poorer areas within municipalities should occur. In this regard, larger and more diverse council areas and more consistent service provision may be a positive outcome of boundary consolidation.
Local government can become a key partner in the new Tasmanian Wellbeing Framework (once established) by developing linked objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) (with appropriate support) for responding to and reporting on place-specific key community issues. Under this approach, all councils would work with the State Government to collect and report data on indicators, and councils could set priority objectives that help to achieve positive wellbeing outcomes under the framework at a local level.
There is a growing focus on the use of wellbeing indicator frameworks in local government across Australia to help provide councils with clarity on how they can influence and improve wellbeing at the local level. These frameworks also provide robust evidence on community issues which can inform tailored approaches to delivery of wellbeing services. A core principle of these frameworks is to ensure a relevant set of indicators that can measure where councils, through their functions and services, can directly influence the wellbeing of communities.
Under the Tasmanian Public Health Act 1993, councils are required to develop a Public Health Plan. The scope of this requirement could be broadened to also encompass wellbeing, bringing the process in line with other jurisdictions such as Victoria, who have mandated municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plans.
1.3 Require councils to undertake Community Impact Assessments (CIAs) for significant new services or infrastructure
A Community Impact Assessment (CIA) would help councils to assess the case for providing particular services in response to community need and/or demand that is not otherwise planned for. Preparing the assessment should also help councils in their advocacy to other spheres of government, when they are considering filling a ‘service gap’ by providing a service another entity or sphere of government normally provides (e.g., primary healthcare).
CIAs would require councils undergo a transparent, thorough, and consultative process with their communities that considers the social and cultural impacts on communities and individuals, as well as clearly and succinctly documenting the whole-of-life costs for the community and how it will be paid for. This may include a ‘notional rates increase’ to demonstrate the full costs in simple terms. (Subject to other options being considered below, this option could also apply to acquisition of new infrastructure).
Although many councils already undertake these sorts of processes, there is merit in providing greater consistency, as well as supporting councils that currently have limited resources and capability to make these assessments.
CIAs could assist with better decision making and more informed community support.
- They would facilitate a consideration of whole-of-life costs for new assets (see also option 8.2).
- They would enable communities to better appreciate the costs of expanding services into new or non-core areas, including the impacts on the rates and charges they pay, and the value they might derive. It would also provide councillors with a framework to manage diverse and competing community desires and practical expectations.
- It may be more efficient for councils to consider service costs on a larger-scale, strategic basis rather than on an issue-by-issue basis.
- Any CIA mechanism would need to be relatively straightforward, consistent and not simply a ‘tick-and-flick’ exercise to generate the desired effect.
Councils around Australia are increasingly involving their residents in decision-making processes regarding service delivery through a variety of contemporary community engagement methods (such as social and community impact assessments), particularly when confronted by development-related decisions. Transparency in the need for and cost of new services supports ‘community licence’ for councils undertaking new activities or providing new infrastructure.