Who Governs Hobart?

This paper was originally written for a course on regionalism taken in Sweden in the first quarter of 2007. That's part of the reason I describe the federal system in the manner I do. I also could have explored the concept of private "public space" to a much greater extent than what I did.

In this paper I will discuss who governs the City of Hobart. Hobart, the second oldest city in Australia, is the capital city of the state of Tasmania, part of the Commonwealth of Australia. I shall first briefly explain the federated nature of Australia and the three levels of government. The power of local councils will be examined before the organisational structure of the Hobart City Council and the role of both the elected council and the unelected bureaucrats are outlined. Voting entitlements and Other sub-state authorities outside the council will briefly be outlined. Finally a conclusion will answer the question with: the state government and Hobart City Council.

Australia is a federated nation and has been since its creation on the first of January 1901. The federated system means that the central government is given certain powers, and that all other powers are retained by the states (DFAT). However, the federal government has been able to encroach on these other powers over the years. In cases where two laws conflict (one a state and the other federal), the federal law prevails (DFAT). The constitution only makes mention of two levels of government, the federal and the various state governments. The third level of government in Australia is the local government or local council. Each state and territory (an area which theoretically is governed directly by the federal government, but has a devolved parliament of its own) decides for it self how the councils are operated.

Tasmania, like the other states, has a constitution. Unlike the Australian constitution the Tasmanian one is simply an act of parliament, and to change it requires no more then a majority in the parliament, not a referendum. This constitution (among other things) establishes local government in Part "IVA - Local Government" (Tasmanian Constitution). However, this part while establishing the fact that councils will exist, leaves open how they are operated and what their powers are. Both the system and power of the councils being provided by the "Parliament ... from time to time" (Tasmanian Constitution). It is the "Local Government Act 1993" (referred hereafter to as either the 'LGA' or 'the act') that currently provides for the creation of the various councils, the role of the councillors, what power the councils have and so on.

The act requires that the various councils "provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community", "represent and promote the interests of the community", and "provide for the peace, order and good government of the municipal area". Generally the act permits councils to "do anything necessary or convenient to perform its functions either within or outside its municipal area". Specifically, the act provides for the various councils to have the following powers (among others): to charge land rates, "service rates", special rates and to levy fines (in relation to by-laws); and, to make by-laws in respect to anything the council has power to do.

Each council has a different number of councillors, all elected, the numbers are outlined in the LGA. The Hobart City Council (hereafter HCC) has a council of 12 councillors (also called alderman), including the Lord Major and the Deputy Lord Major (hereafter referred to as the major and deputy major respectively). They "represent the businesses and residents of the City of Hobart" (HCC, "Aldermen"). The aldermen are the "decision making and direction setting arm" of the HCC, while bureaucrats ("the General Manager [who] is supported by the Corporate Management Team") run the actual administration (HCC, "Council Structure").

As mentioned, bureaucrats run the actual day to day administration of the council, and as such have a large amount of power (relatively speaking), while being generally unaccountable to anyone outside the council. The general manager, who is appointed by the council has a variety of duties, these include "[managing] the resources and assets of the council", assisting the council in preparing plans and to provide advice to the council, to "be responsible for the day-to-day operations and affairs of the council" and to generally implement the decisions and policies of the council (LGA). In addition, the general manager is responsible for hiring employees of the council. The general manager can delegate any of the power they have, except the power to delegate power (LGA).

Persons able to vote include those who live or own land in a local council. This includes corporations if they own or occupy land "in a municipal area" (LGA). This part of the act makes it clear that those who own land in multiple municipal areas, are entitled to multiple votes, one for each of the municipal areas. However, in any particular municipal area, a voter is only entitled to a maximum of two votes, one being for themselves and one for a particular corporation if they are representing that corporation (LGA).

The HCC (and the other councils comprising the Greater Hobart area) have a great deal of say in the day to day running of the the city. However, various parts of Hobart have other authorities that govern them. Sullivans Cove, which was where the initial settlement was, is now governed by the "The Sullivans Cove Waterfront Authority" (SCWA). This is due to disputes between the Tasmanian Government and the HCC over development in the area, among other things. TasPorts, which is a corporation wholly owned by the Tasmanian Government, operates and manages the Port of Hobart (TasPorts).

To properly answer the question "Who governs Hobart?", is not possible without a discussion on what is meant by governance and related topics. For the purposes of this work, however, it is clear that there exist two main authorities that "govern" Hobart. Firstly the Hobart City Council (and other councils in the Greater Hobart Area), is the local government that provides water, sewerage and so on. They have a broad range of powers, but only in a limited area. The Tasmanian State Government, the authority the runs the public schools, public hospitals and other such institutions, control the police and have much wider range of powers generally (as granted by the Australian constitution).

Though possibly outside the scope of this work and not addressed above due to time and space considerations, a third, lower, 'level', of authority also exits. That is the owners and mangers of private land. As in many other places, private land, even if publicly accessible, is 'governed' by the rules set down by the owner or manager. This can mean that simple acts as busking, handing out leaflets or collecting signatures for a petition are not permitted, though they are on or in 'public space'. With so much 'public space' being on private land, this potentially means a curtailing of some of the fundamental 'rights' of a "democracy".

Businesses and developers also have more say and direct contact with both the HCC and the state government. There are a couple of reasons for this, one is simply that they have more money to lobby and related activities and another is that because they are 'job creators', the government (either level) wants to keep them on side. The fact that businesses get a vote for the council does not hurt them either.


Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, "Australia's system of Government" http://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/sys_gov.html, accessed 29/01/2007

Hobart City Council, various, http://www.hobartcity.com.au/, accessed 29/01/2007

Local Government Act, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/tas/consol_act/lga1993182/, accessed 30/01/2007

Tasmanian Constitution, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/tas/consol_act/ca1934188/, accessed 29/01/2007

TasPorts, http://www.tasports.com.au/about/index.html, accessed 30/01/2007

The Sullivans Cove Waterfront Authority, http://www.waterfront.tas.gov.au/, accessed 30/01/2007

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