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Department of Premier and Cabinet

How councils work

Councils are created by state legislation, but operate as an independent sphere of government. There are 3 spheres of government in Australia:

  • the Australian Government (also known as the Commonwealth or Federal Government);
  • state and territory governments; and
  • local governments (or councils).

The 3 spheres of government have many shared interests, but each has separate responsibilities.

Councils are often described as the sphere of government ‘closest to the people’. Councillors are elected to represent the views of their electors and in this way give people a chance to have their say on important local issues.

Councils are also:

  • important partners for delivering a range of federal and state policies and programs;
  • key drivers of growth and prosperity in the local economy; and
  • able to link to Australia-wide infrastructure and services through funding arrangements or other forms of cooperation (for example, grants for local roads or joint arrangements for emergency services).

Governing legislation and local laws

The Local Government Act, 1993 (the Act) establishes the powers and functions of councils and sets the rules for how councils operate.

Councils can also make local laws, called by-laws, to respond to issues and community needs within a municipality. By-laws complement a council’s responsibilities and powers under both Tasmanian and Australian legislation.

Find out more about:

  • local government legislation
  • council by-laws – contact your council directly via the Tasmanian council directory

Council functions

Under the Act, Tasmanian councils have three very broad functions, namely:

  • to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community;
  • to represent and promote the interests of the community; and
  • to provide for the peace, order and good government of the municipal area.

In performing these functions, councils must consult, involve and be accountable to their residents and ratepayers.

Council structure

A local council is a corporate legal entity, referred to as a body corporate in the Act.

Councils are made up of 2 parts:

  • the elected council (made up of a mayor, deputy mayor and councillors); and
  • council administration (council staff) led by the council’s general manager.

This structure is similar to that of a company which has

  • a board of directors; and
  • an organisation led by a chief executive officer.

Elected members (councillors)

Councillors, including mayors and deputy mayors, are the elected members who collectively make up the elected council. Elected members make decisions on the overall direction and priorities of the council.

Find out more about the specific roles and responsibilities of elected members.

Councillors receive an allowance for sitting on a council. More information about the process for setting councillor allowances and the current allowance schedule is found on the Councillor Allowances - Information Sheet (Local Government Division, 2018).

Council administration

The council administration carries out the policies, plans and programs set by the elected council.

A general manager is appointed by the elected council and is responsible for managing the everyday running of the council administration.

Councils employ a range of professionals with expertise to advise and assist council decision-making. A council’s workforce also includes people who carry out specific operational functions such as engineering, planning, environmental, community, health and social work, clerical and administrative functions, various trades and plant operations.

Council meetings and decisions

Elected members collectively make decisions at formally constituted council meetings. At council meetings, councillors review council objectives and policies to ensure that decisions are appropriate to the needs and in the best interest of the community. Most council meetings are open to the public.

Find out more about council meetings and decisions, including meeting types and the rules that govern council meetings.

The mayor is the chairperson of council meetings. The mayor is also the spokesperson for the council and must represent accurately the decisions of the council.

Find out more about:

  • Council elections
  • Council meetings and decisions
  • Councillor allowances
  • Local government legislation
  • Roles and responsibilities of elected members and council administration

More resources can be found at the Local Government Division's resource page.

More information

For more information about how councils work, contact the Local Government Division:

  • phone 03 6232 7022