Reflecting on Reform - Governance - the ‘next steps’………

22 July  2020

The State Government is currently seeking to (further) reform local government in SA. This is through the Statute Amendment (Local Government Review) Bill 2020. Whilst it is easy to become embroiled in the legislative detail, we should not forget that, in addition to the legal framework, good, modern governance is central in these current times, to the future of the local government sector.

‘Governance’ for SA councils has a traditional risk management genesis, focussed on formal processes and accountabilities. However, the word ‘governance’ comes from the Greek verb ‘kubernaein’ which means ‘to steer’. Therefore, council governance should not be about risk-management but higher-level activities such as longer-term plans, purpose and impact. It is about maximising the achievement of local government aims in an environment of duty towards all stakeholders (government, ratepayers, regulators, staff, businesses, residents). All of which promotes a wider ethos being tapped into, one that involves doing the ‘right thing’ by citizens more often, more effectively and in ways that are visible.

In a sector that has been evolving since 1840, councils individually and collectively are significant organisations, hugely complex and with numerous stakeholders. The implications from the community services provided by councils are profound and social needs are becoming more and more important in the context of ‘good governance’. If this needs any reinforcement, it is probably the single positive thing that we can attribute to COVID-19!

So, what is the pivotal message in this? The State Government is seeking to ‘look after’ councils in a parental way, through legislated reforms. In this regard, it is important that councils have input to what is being proposed by way of new legislative changes, particularly where there are overt and covert implications. However, there are also concurrent, significant, governance issues that cannot be overlooked and must be addressed concurrently. These issues are fundamental to councils ‘steering’ their communities into the future. As the Good Governance Institute identifies, it is no longer about risk-management but issues such as austerity, the digital future, localism, the changing face of work, the push for collaboration and the rise of populism. These are community issues that are the current, key challenges for the governance of councils.

It is with these considerations in mind that we deliver our LG Reform Series Papers. The first titled “Proposed changes that affect the CEO: desirable or not?” to be published tomorrow.

For further information contact Michael Kelledy on mkelledy@kelledyjones.com.au or 08 8113 7103.