Department of Premier and Cabinet

Local government in Tasmania

History

Aerial shot of Hobart, looking down the riverPrior to 1827 the Tasmanian colony was divided into nine police districts each under the control of magistrates. There were no local or regional structures in place at all.

However, in 1835 and 1857 Councils were established for Hobart and Launceston respectively. But it was not until after self-Government in 1856 that Local Government structures became more commonplace.

Sixteen rural municipalities were proclaimed between 1860 and 1863. These were replaced in 1865 by 30 municipal districts and thereafter a number of Boards and Trusts began to provide various Local Government services. By 1906, Local Government services in Tasmania were provided through 149 local authorities of some significance as well as a number of other minor bodies.

First Local Government Act

The first Local Government Act, which was passed in 1906, consolidated council boundaries. It brought together councils, town committees and road committees and provided a proper legislative context in which Local Government could function. Under this first Act all local authorities other than those for Hobart and Launceston were abolished and replaced by 47 municipalities.

In many cases, the size of the early municipal districts, and even those which replaced them in 1907, were very substantially related to distance and travel time. During times in which travel was far more demanding than it is now, inns and supporting structures were commonly established at intervals representing the distance which could conveniently be travelled in a day. The construction of housing and shops in conjunction with the inns led to the establishment of townships and, eventually, municipal authorities.

In other instances, the development of townships and municipal authorities followed the development of specific activities, such as mining or agriculture, in particular parts of the State. In these cases, the area of the municipal district was largely determined by logistical considerations in the provision of services, its location and the pattern of development.

Changing boundaries

Irrespective of their origins, it appears to be the case that the older municipal boundaries served their residents well for many years but their limitations have become increasingly apparent. Major inquiries into Local Government structures were carried out in 1939, 1960 and in 1974 and all recommended substantial reductions in the number of Tasmanian Councils. In no case were the recommendations implemented and it was not until 1993 that a substantial reduction in the number of Councils was achieved.

In 1993, a Local Government Advisory Board (LGAB), report resulted in substantial changes to council boundaries across the whole State. The LGAB’s report resulted in a reduction in the number of Tasmanian councils from 46 to 29, and was parallelled by substantial changes to the legislation under which local government operates.

Councils are now required to exercise greater controls over the environmental outcomes from a wide range of activities carried out in their area. They are required to more closely monitor and control building activity and they are required to operate generally in a manner which allows for meaningful consultation with their residents and high standards of public accountability for decisions which they make on their behalf.