The Gospel of Local Government

Published: 15th January 2021

When it comes to the role and function of local government - Old is New Again in 2021!

Forty years ago, the late, great Doug Tucker presented Queensland with his version of a “Civic Gospel”, the philosophy and thought that drives the concept of local government.

In his chapter in the 1981 seminal publication, Local Government Systems of Australia, the senior lecturer in local government at University of Queensland over four decades talked about a “deep belief in a municipality’s ability, right and mission to improve the life of its citizens’.

Tucker was referring to Townsville City Council’s relatively unique municipal vision (and implementation thereof) from the turn of the 20th century until 1980. He also attributed some of that same “Civic Gospel” to Brisbane, Toowoomba and Rockhampton. 

Now, as we enter the first weeks of the third decade of the 21st Century, the idea of “Civic Gospel” rings true for me more than ever.

Queensland’s “Civic Gospel” today is the product of reforms and improvements by all spheres of government over the past 125 years, especially initiatives by our very own councils as they progressively matured and increased their capability and, of course, the State which implemented major reforms at key stages. In fact, it’s worthwhile recalling the occasion back in 1927 when the Queensland Government of the time established a Royal Commission to examine local government boundaries. The inquiry’s task was to largely review a report into the same matter previously handed down in 1896 (the year the LGAQ came into being). Well, the outcome was a recommendation to establish 73 councils, with a minor dissenting addendum from doyen public servant Charles Chuter proposing 77 councils. How prophetic!

But I digress! Returning to the vision of “Civic Gospel”, the phenomenon has gone well beyond just those four Queensland councils back in 1981. In fact, I would argue that most, if not all, of our councils have some measure of it.

Just think back over the last 20 years of this century. The “Civic Gospel” in Queensland has driven and funded  massive underground vehicular tunnels , heavy rail links, light rail, undersea telecommunication cables , upgraded international airports , universities, major sporting stadiums, remote optic fibre loops , meat works , super council sale yards , brand new city centres ….the list goes on and on…

In almost three decades of visiting – firstly  157 and now 77 councils – I can confidently say there isn’t  a single town that hasn’t improved its amenity over that time - not one!

I especially think of towns like Thargomindah, Tambo, Palm Island, Napranum and Burketown that are today unrecognisable from the communities I first visited, such is the transformation of their civic centres.

The X factor for me is the faith or belief which is central to a “Civic Gospel” - Queensland councils possess boundless amounts of that … self-belief and confidence is not our problem.

I started my local government career just over 40 years ago and it’s fair to say there was a local government cringe or “poor fellow me” mindset in a large part of our ranks , as well as a paternalistic approach to councils by state and federal governments - the two paradigms mutually reinforcing. 

Well, we are light years away from that position now. Councils’ time has well and truly come. The community has more faith in us than any other level of government. We are both competent and capable of fashioning our own community’s future, albeit in partnership with state and federal governments .

Let this year and the decade ahead see that the good news and works of the “Civic Gospel” become even further enshrined in our wonderful state’s fabric.

Welcome Nathan Ruhle to the LGAQ family

We would like to welcome Nathan Ruhle to the LGAQ family. Nathan will be joining us as part of the Intergovernmental Relations team.

Nathan joins us after almost 12 years in state politics, most recently leading the policy team under Deb Frecklington, Leader of the Opposition from 2017 to 2020 and continuing the role under David Crisafulli.

Nathan brings with him a range of skills in advocacy, policy development, communications and he is well known to many Mayors and Councillors, regional economic bodies and local key industry groups across Queensland.