How your council works
Australia has three tiers of government - federal, state and local. Queensland's 77 local councils operate under the local government system – a system that is integral to the democratic system of government in Australia.
The legal framework within which local government operates in Queensland is provided by State Government legislation:
- The Constitution of Queensland 2001
- The Queensland Local Government Act 2009 and
- The Queensland Local Government Electoral Act 2011
The structure of your local council
Each council is an independent group of people who work with, and for, their local community. This group is made up of elected members (one mayor and multiple councillors) and the organisation which includes a chief executive officer and council staff.
Councils have powers to:
- raise revenue
- provide and maintain infrastructure and services
- regulate activities eg building development, and
- impose penalties if local regulations are breached eg dangerous dog attacks.
Local government areas come in many different sizes. While large metropolitan councils employ hundreds of staff to service large populations in small areas, smaller rural councils may have very few staff servicing large geographical areas with small populations. Generally, most councils will have between 5 and 11 elected members.
Some council areas are divided into geographical parts, known as divisions. Each division has one councillor who is elected by the voters within the division. In councils that don't have divisions, councillors are elected by all voters in the council area. However, all councillors are required by legislation to take decisions and act in the overall interest of the whole council community and area.
How does your council make decisions?
One of the main roles of elected members is to make decisions on behalf of the local community. This is done at council meetings.
The meeting process
Councils meet regularly, at least once a month, and these meetings are generally open to the public. The agenda, or list of issues for discussion at the meeting, is made available to the public in advance so that the community knows which issues are being discussed.
In special circumstances, parts of a council meeting may be closed to the public, when matters of a confidential nature are being discussed. This might include an individual’s financial circumstances, a particular staff member or legal matters.
The meetings are run by the mayor (or chair of the meeting) of the council, and follow formal meeting procedures. These procedures ensure all elected members have a chance to speak about the issues and that all the listed items are discussed.
When decisions need to be made, the mayor (or chair of the meeting) calls for a vote, and the outcome is decided by a majority vote (the choice that most council members support).
As well as attending council meetings members of the public can, in some councils, make a prior request for permission to address the elected members and council officers on relevant issues.
Sometimes community groups may want council to consider a particular matter and they may obtain a large number of signatures from the public on what is called a petition. These petitions are presented to council which then encourages the elected members to discuss the matter and come to a decision.
Councils encourage the attendance of the media - newspapers, radio and television stations - as this is a useful tool in letting the community know what decisions have been made. For those people who do not attend meetings, minutes of the meeting are available at council offices, libraries or online. These visits are encouraged by councils as they increase community awareness and participation in the local government process.
As well as full council meetings, councils can also have committee meetings. These committee meetings allow time for more detailed discussion on particular subjects or issues, for example, policy development. These committees make recommendations to the full council, where the decisions are voted upon.
Your mayor and councillors
In Queensland, local government mayors and councillors are paid by councils (the organisation). The Local Government Remuneration and Discipline Tribunal (the Tribunal) sets the remuneration schedule that establishes salary ranges for mayors, deputy mayors and councillors in different categories of local governments. In many Queensland councils the role of the mayor and councillors are full-time jobs.
Elected members meet formally to make decisions by voting on motions. They have no authority as individuals, rather they have an equal voice in council meetings. Only decisions made by the majority of elected members can be acted upon - by the council as an administrative organisation.
Every council pays staff, and contractors, to work for the community. The services provided by each council may vary, but most employ administration officers, librarians, plant and equipment operators, drivers, accountants, planners, inspectors, engineers, community workers, environmental officers, horticulture workers and recreation officers.
The council CEO and staff advise the elected members, and carry out the Council's decisions.
Elected members work hard to ensure that they make the best decisions for their local communities. They discuss local issues with their community, then set policies and decide what actions will be taken to deliver on those policies.
More about the mayor
The mayor is elected as a representative of the council area as a whole at the general elections (for a term of four years).
The mayor has some special duties to perform, which include:
- Running council meetings
- Acting as council spokesperson e.g. to the media or at community events
- Carrying out ceremonial duties such as citizenship ceremonies, opening new buildings or parks
- Working with the council chief executive officer on council business
How is your council funded?
To provide the many services that you use, councils need considerable financial resources. They need to buy machines and vehicles, materials to build roads and bridges, and books for libraries.
It also costs money to maintain parks and swimming pools, pay the wages of administration and clerical staff, environmental officers, drivers, maintenance workers, youth workers, inspectors, engineers, planners and librarians and many more.
Councils with large populations may have annual budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, while smaller councils will have less money to spend.
Local councils have four main sources of income:
Much of a council’s income comes from taxes on property (land and buildings), called rates.
Each year, owners of property - including houses, farms and businesses - must pay rates to the council. The amount paid depends on the value of their property.
For example, the amount of rates paid by the owner of a house or flat will usually be much less than the amount paid by the owner of a large, more valuable property or business.
Another way councils collect money is by charging a fee for some of their services.
Usually, the charges will be used to pay for the supply the service – like the fees for your household wheelie bin garbage and recycling collection.
You may be charged to dump rubbish at the waste depot, swim in the public pool or use other recreational facilities. You must pay to have a building application approved and to register your dog.
Fines are paid to councils when people break council laws. For instance, if a car is parked incorrectly, the owner or driver may be fined.
Councils also receive money from the state and federal governments. This money is called a grant, or subsidy. In some cases, councils can decide themselves how they will spend the grant.
At other times the state or federal governments will determine how the money has to be spent. For example, a grant to protect the sand dunes at the local beach can’t be used to buy more books for the library.
Sometimes councils decide to provide a major service or facility, such as a new recreation centre. Such major projects are very expensive and will be there to serve communities for many years. Councils have to carefully consider where they will obtain the funds to pay for them.
Sometimes they will borrow the money for such a project if they can’t afford to pay for it all at once. The council must eventually pay this money back, with interest.
This means that the council can pay for the project over many years without having to cut back on other services it provides. It also means that people who benefit in future from the project will contribute as well as those paying rates at the time the project starts.
Councils deal with large amounts of money each year. They must have a written plan for how it uses its money, called a budget. The council must also keep a record of all its receipts (income) and expenditure (expenses) each year – their annual financial statements. Budgets and financial statements are available to the public.
Mayors and councillors are elected for a four year term. Local Government Areas are either:
- whole of Local Government areas (undivided), or
- divided into individual divisions / wards (divided)
For divided Local Government Areas, each division is required to have approximately an equal enrolment of electors.
The most recent Quadrennial Local Government elections were conducted on Saturday, 19 March 2016. The Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) was responsible for the conduct of all 2016 Local Government Elections.
Working for councils
Thousands of rewarding jobs. Jobs with stories.
Meaningful, diverse and inspiring are just some of the words used to describe a career in council.
With 77 Councils across Queensland contributing around $7.4 billion to the State economy every year, there is an inspiring range of job opportunities available.
Careers available in local government are many and varied, because each council is different. Large councils are able to provide more services, therefore they employ more staff.
One common job
Every council employs a chief executive officer. The chief executive officer is responsible for the day-to-day management of the council, and makes sure that all council decisions are carried out.
The chief executive officer also makes sure that the money the council receives and spends is accounted for, and that council records are properly maintained - this is called administration.
What other type of jobs do councils offer?
Councils employ people with a variety of skills, including clerical staff, contract managers, computer operators, accountants, rate clerks and other specialists to help with administration.
Councils may also employ works staff, who are responsible for public works, such as roads, streets, bridges, parks, gardens and special projects. The manager of works advises the council on what work is needed, and is in charge of construction staff and contractors. Many councils also employ a number of other specialists like traffic and mechanical technicians.
Environmental health officers look after public health and make sure that the environment is clean and safe. Some of their duties include supervising garbage management, controlling infectious disease issues and inspecting shops and restaurants for health and safety.
Local government planners ensure that development occurs in an orderly way. For example, this may involve making sure that large factories and homes are kept in separate areas of the council region. They prepare plans setting out where particular activities can take place and they work with building certifiers, who approve building applications and check construction work to make sure that building safety rules are followed.
Looking after the community
Councils provide many community services, as well as looking after construction and the environment, and need specific staff to carry out these tasks. Some councils employ childcare workers to operate childcare centres and before/after school centres. They may also manage senior citizen centres and employ youth officers, recreation officers, librarians and community relations officers.