A little summary of the role and status of local government in Australia, for anyone who is curious or confused:

“Sovereign citizens” claim that local councils have no legal authority because they are not mentioned in the Australian Constitution. Sometimes they use this claim as an excuse not to pay rates or local Council fines. They are wrong.

In Australia, local governments and local councils are established and governed under State legislation, not the Federal Constitution.

Each state has its own Local Government Act which defines the rules and operations of local Councils. Because the Acts vary from State to State, the specifics of their legal status can vary slightly across the country, but some general principles apply.

To put this simply, each state’s Local Government Act serves as the legal framework for local government in that state. The Act outlines their structure, functions, and powers.

Local governments do not have inherent legislative power like State or Federal governments. They exercise delegated power granted by the State Acts, allowing them to make local laws (called bylaws) within their local government area, and within specific areas of law.

Councils are a body corporate, meaning they act as a single entity separate from their individual members (Councillors), and that they are legal persons – a necessity for them to own real property. This does not mean they are “just a corporation.”

Councils generally comprise elected representatives (Councillors) and a dedicated works and administration team led by a General Manager or CEO.

Across all states, local governments usually have three core functions:

• Providing for the health, safety, and welfare of the community.

• Representing and promoting the interests of the community.

• Providing for the peace, order, and good government of their municipal area.

Their rights and responsibilities are wider than just “roads, rates and rubbish.”

Because local Councils are established under State legislation, they are bound by State laws. This means local bylaws cannot contradict or duplicate State or Federal laws.

Various mechanisms exist to ensure local governments operate responsibly, including community consultation, oversight by State Ministers, and the courts. Citizens are welcome to attend Council meetings, and to have input into local government policies and decisions.