Of the many roles I have to undertake as Mayor, one of the really fun duties is hosting groups of students in Year 4 during the time they are studying Local Government. These students are typically nine or 10 years of age. We have the class sit in the gallery at the Council Chambers and we start the visit with a general discussion before moving into a role play of a Council meeting.
One of the first areas I tackle is the issue of the three levels of government. I start off by asking students if they can identify who is responsible for different areas in our community. There are usually some amusing answers (including naming the Prime Minister and Premier where Wayne Rudd has made an appearance as PM and Anna Bligh has moved states). I normally ask people to name items in our community that Local Government is responsible for. I receive answers along the lines of: Petrol prices; airlines; traffic lights; CBD businesses; schools; roads; parks and more. In general, the teachers do an excellent job in teaching the young students about Local Government but it is extremely difficult for anyone to understand all the different aspects of society and who is responsible for each level. To make it even more confusing, there are various items where multiple levels of government are responsible for the one item. Take roads for example. The roads throughout Dubbo are the responsibility of Local Government. We manage the roads and decide where we will spend our limited resources. But wait. Cobra Street runs through the centre of Dubbo so that would logically be the responsibility of Dubbo City Council. Cobra Street is part of the Mitchell Highway therefore the State Government is responsible for that section of road. To add to the confusion, the Federal Government contributes money (mainly through the Roads to Recovery Program) to assist with road funding. So with this one piece of important infrastructure, all three levels make a contribution. Schools are another area where the general understanding is that the State Government is responsible for funding but almost a quarter of all funding for schools comes from the Commonwealth.
Some may argue that we don’t need three levels of government and there are certainly some valid points that can be made along those lines but we currently have a system in place so we need to work within that system. Most people don’t really care which level of government is responsible – they just want services delivered.
Consider this small piece of dialogue from the 2008 comedy series called the Hollowmen. The head of market research, Theo Tsolakis (played by Santo Cilauro) is conducting an interview with a focus group to ascertain what the public would like to see in the next Federal budget. The interaction goes like this. Theo: “Tax cuts, petrol prices, better roads. Let’s get going. Dawn what benefits to you personally would you like to see from the budget?” Dawn Answers: “Stamp Duty. It’s a killer when people are trying to buy a house.” Theo interrupts her: “Actually I’ll just stop you there Dawn. That’s a State Government issue. We’re talking about Federal Government. What’s another issue that affects us all?” Steve interjects: “Wheely bins.” Theo: “What about ‘em Steve?” Steve: “We need bigger wheely bins.” Theo: “That’s the Local Government. This is Federal.” Steve trails off with: “We still need ‘em”. I love this scene because it is a situation I see all too often. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of which level is responsible for various items in our community and to be fair they don’t care. Our community just wants to see action.
The most important aspect in delivering solutions for our community is that communication among all three levels is free flowing. In our local environment, I see this ongoing communication and dialogue as vital to deliver additional services within our community. To help with this issue, we have a regular breakfast in Dubbo with all three levels of government standing side-by-side so there is no chance for mindless buck-passing. Today is the first Community Leaders Breakfast for 2013. At the breakfast will be myself and fellow Councillors, senior Council staff, the State Member for Dubbo Troy Grant and the Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton. This is a rare opportunity for all three levels to be accessible to the public – with the bonus of a free breakfast. I encourage everyone in our community to come along from 7.30am to 9.30am at the Church Street rotunda.
Tell me how many levels of government you think there should be at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo