local government

The Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley is the local government covering the district of the East Kimberley and includes the towns of Wyndham and Kununurra.

All local governments in Western Australia are independent corporate bodies constituted under the Local Government Act 1995 (the Act).

The Act prescribes that the general function of a local government is to provide for the good government of people in its district and that a liberal approach is to be taken to the construction of the scope of that general function. However, the Act limits the scope to be construed in the context of any constraints imposed by the Act or any other written law. A local government has a legislative function to make local laws and an executive function to administer its local laws and to provide services and facilities. If a local law is inconsistent with the Act or any other written (State) law then State law prevails.

Local governments are autonomous in that the (State) Minister for Local Government has no authority to direct local governments in their decision-making. Local governments are either shires, towns or cities. Shires are generally small-medium in population and are often rural. Towns are of medium population and are essentially urban. Cities have larger populations and are essentially urban. Provided certain population criteria are met, shires can become towns or cities, and towns can become cities.

The Council

Each local government is to have an elected Council as its governing body. The title used for the governing body is, for example: Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley.

Elected members are generally elected for four year terms. Local government elections are held every two years with half the seats coming up for election. Voting is not compulsory but individual local governments make the decision on whether the vote will be a postal ballot  or through an in-person ballot.

The Title of “President” refers to the leader (Presiding Member)of a local government Council in shires. In towns and Cities the leader is referred to as “Mayor”. The President may be elected by the people or from within the Council. The Council determines the mode of election for the President.

The role of the Council is to –

  • direct and control the local government’s affairs and functions;
  • oversee the allocation of the local government’s finances and resources;
  • determine the local government’s policies; and
  • ensure that there is an appropriate structure for administering the local government.

Services provided by local governments

The services provided by local governments vary between local governments. In general, they fall into three categories:

  • Services to People and the Community – community services; family and neighbourhood support networks; recreation and culture; maintaining sporting grounds, reserves, parks and gardens; provision of public libraries; senior citizen services; childcare services.
  • Services to Property – roads and footpaths; land drainage and development; sewerage disposal (in some country towns); refuse disposal and recycling services; litter control; street lighting and underground power; street cleaning; bush fire control.
  • Regulatory Services – exercise controls to enforce legislation covering health, buildings, signs, goods, litter, planning, parking, fire and traffic hazards. Local governments are given powers and responsibilities under many items of State legislation including the Acts for Town Planning and Development, Health, Building, Dogs, Cemeteries, Bush Fires, Roads, Traffic, Caravan Parks and Off-road Vehicles.

The Operation of Local Government

Meetings of the Council and Committees of Council

The regular decision-making meetings of Council are termed ordinary meetings. Most Councils hold their ordinary meetings between two and four weeks apart. Council may also hold special meetings for the purpose of making decisions that are required urgently.

A local government may establish committees of three or more people to assist the Council. With some exceptions, the exercising of any of the powers or the discharging of any of the duties of the local government under the Act may be delegated to a committee. It is unusual for wide-spread delegation to committees to occur in local government.

Meetings of the Council and meetings of committees that have delegated authority must be open to the public. The Act permits the exclusion of members of the public for the discussion of some specific matters.

The conduct of Council and committee meetings are governed primarily by the Meeting Procedures Local Law adopted by the Council. The Act requires each Council to have a public question time at the commencement of each ordinary and special meeting.

Roles of the President, Deputy President and Councillors

The role of an elected member is prescribed in the Act as representing the interests of electors, ratepayers and residents, providing leadership and guidance, facilitating communication between the community and Council and participating in the local government’s decision-making processes.

The President has the additional roles of presiding at meetings, carrying out civic and ceremonial duties and speaking on behalf of the local government.

As individuals, the President, Deputy President and councillors have no authority under the Act and no directive or decision-making power. All authority rests with the Council and that authority is exercised by majority decisions at formal Council or committee meetings.

The Chief Executive Officer

Each local government is to employ a person to be the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the local government. CEOs are employed under performance-based contracts.

The CEO’s role is to:

  • advise the Council of the functions of the local government;
  • ensure that advice and information is available to the Council so that informed decisions can be made;
  • implement Council decisions; and
  • manage the day to day operations of the local government including staff.

The CEO must ensure that records and documents of the local government are properly kept and establish efficient systems and procedures for the proper financial management of the local government.

With some exceptions, the exercising of any of the powers or the discharging of any of the duties of the local government under the Act may be delegated to the CEO. The exceptions include appointing an auditor, borrowing money, accepting a tender in excess of the limits set by the local government, acquiring or disposing of property valued at an amount in excess of the limits set by the local government, and any decisions requiring an absolute majority of council members.

Decision-making in local governments

Unless an officer has the delegated authority to make a decision on a matter that has been submitted to the local government, the matter will need to be presented to Council, or a committee of Council which has delegated authority for decisions. This process will take different lengths of time depending on the local government’s decision-making processes. For example, with some local governments, each matter may need to be referred to a committee which then puts a recommendation to full Council.

Officers will prepare a report for Council on those matters requiring a decision for inclusion in the agenda for a Council meeting. The report will contain a recommendation based on the officers’ professional knowledge and understanding of the legislation and policies covering the issue. Applicants for a Council decision are entitled to seek a copy of agenda papers prior to the meeting.

Applicants may seek to make a presentation to the meeting at which their issue is being discussed. This may be a committee meeting or a Council meeting. Councils vary in the way they handle such requests.

The CEO has the role of implementing all Council decisions. If you are directly involved, you will be informed of the decision of Council and of any action that needs to be taken. In some circumstances, the Act provides a right of objection or appeal against a decision - a right which extends to decisions made under delegated authority. Local governments are required to advise of appeal and objection rights available to an applicant.

Contacting local governments

All initial contact with local governments on significant projects should be through the CEO. Depending on the matters to be addressed, the CEO may direct a more appropriate senior officer to deal with the matter.