Conferences, Proceedings of the 3rd National Local Government Research Forum

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One size fits all? An appraisal as to how NSW councils have reacted and adapted to new legislation
Phil Willis

Last modified: 2013-10-23


This paper is part of a research project examining the long-term impact of local government reform in NSW. In particular, it examines those reforms that emphasise policy creation and strategy formulation as opposed to ‘day-to-day’ management and operations. It takes as its starting point the 1993 Local Government Act, which was a watershed in implementing ‘new’ approaches in New South Wales Local Government. The paper succeeds a previous paper – Panacea or snake oil? An examination of local government reform processes in New South Wales – and details the first of three case studies providing analysis. The first case study is a comprehensive review of council plans and reports of how Canada Bay Council responded to legislated requirements during the period 1994–2012. The paper briefly explains the NSW State Government’s objectives vis-à-vis the NSW Local Government Act 1993, and its subsequent amendments. It also describes how those objectives have been interpreted, implemented and established as a series of guidelines or expectations by the State Government’s Division of Local Government (‘the Division’). The paper also details a timeline of administrative reforms as determined by the Division. In turn, a timeline of Canada Bay Council’s approach to the reforms was formulated and contrasted against the Division’s expectations. The analysis revealed that immediately following the introduction of the ‘93 Act, Council was still locked into a ‘departmental’ mind-set, and was focussed on ‘day-to-day’ management and operations. However, as it entered the period 2000–10 the mindset transitioned to one of long-term strategic planning, and post-2010 its full focus was on strategic formulation and policy creation coupled with community engagement. From the research and analysis undertaken to date, it is surmised that for any introduction of new local government legislation, as much as 12 years should be allowed to facilitate a transition of the existing culture. Moreover, unique council contexts should factor into calculations of cultural change as it can be broadly concluded that ‘one size will not fit all’.

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