Friday, February 23, 2024

Survey results support councils tackling bigger issues

There is a sharp generational and gender divide when it comes to how Australians view the role of local government, according to a new national survey by Australian Catholic University (ACU).

Researchers at ACU conducted a survey of more than 1,300 people across Australia last year.

Most respondents agreed there was a place for local government to engage with contentious issues, particularly relating to climate change. More than three-quarters of respondents agreed that local government should have a role in issues such as declaring climate emergencies and achieving net zero emissions.

Associate Professor of Politics, Mark Chou, was the lead researcher on the project and said the results reflected important changes in how everyday Australians understand the changing role of local government.

“Gone are the days when the community simply wanted their local councils to stick to ‘roads, rates, and rubbish’,” he said.

“Instead, more Australians now want local councils to tackle bigger issues – something which became particularly important during the height of the pandemic when communities across Australia came to depend on their local government.”

At least three-quarters of the youngest group, aged 18 to 34, agreed that issues concerning climate change and the LGBTIQ+ community should be addressed by local governments.

Younger respondents were also more likely to support greater power for local government, the survey found.

Younger people identified health and planning for the future as the most important services, linked by a care for people’s long-term wellbeing.

Those in the 55+ age group were the least likely to support a role for local government in contentious areas like climate change, Indigenous issues, and LGBTIQ+ issues.

There were also divisions along gender lines. Non-binary people and women were more likely than men to see a place for local government involvement in contentious issues.

Female and non-binary respondents supported a role for local government in providing a range of social and advocacy roles, including acting as a forum for community discussion on national issues.

By contrast, male respondents were more likely to feel that local governments should focus on providing basic services only.

The majority of those surveyed thought councils should go beyond the ‘3Rs’ – roads, rates and rubbish – and focus on future planning, health and community development.

A majority of survey participants nominated refugee support and the provision of injecting rooms as the least important services for local government to provide.

Views on the Role of Local Government: A Summary Report is available online.

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