There are currently 138 local governments in Western Australia (excluding the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands shires). The total number of local governments can change when an amalgamation or division of existing local government districts occurs. Information about particular local governments can be found on the Internet at the Western Australian Department of Local Government website. Some local governments also have their own home page, which can be accessed through that site.
Local government councillors are elected to represent the local community. In a city or a town, a mayor is also elected, and in a shire a shire president is elected as the leader of the local government. The Local Government Act 1995 allows for either the community or the elected councillors to elect the mayor or shire president.
The number of councillors in a local government must be between 6 and 15, if the mayor is elected by the council or between 5 and 14 if the community elects the mayor. Within these limits, a local government can determine the number of councillors in its district.
A local government district may be divided into wards.
In addition to the elected councillors, who discuss and vote on matters affecting the community they represent, there are also people employed to administer local government. The person charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of council decisions is the Chief Executive Officer or CEO.
The Local Government Act 1995 governs local government administration. In turn, each local government passes and administers local laws relevant to its community.
Councillors are elected for terms of 4 years in Western Australia. Elections are held every 2 years on the third Saturday in October for half of the council, and candidates are elected using the first past the post voting system. Extraordinary elections are held if a vacancy occurs within a term.
Voting is voluntary in local government elections in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. It is compulsory in New South Wales, Queensland and in the Northern Territory (in fully incorporated local government areas). It is compulsory for enrolled residents to vote in Victoria, but non-compulsory for enrolled non-residents.
People living in a local government district who are enrolled on the State electoral roll are automatically enrolled on the corresponding local government roll. People who own or occupy property within a local government may apply to that local government to be included on the roll as non-resident owners/occupiers. To do so they must meet prescribed eligibility requirements including being enrolled as an elector on a State or Federal roll. A body corporate may nominate up to two eligible individuals to be included on the owners/occupiers roll.
As a result of changes introduced by the Local Government Act 1995, local governments are able to request that the Western Australian Electoral Commissioner conduct their elections as full postal voting elections. In 2011, 74 local governments made this request. Participation rates ranged from 23.81% to 69.42% with a Statewide average of 30.94%.
In a postal voting election, election packages are posted to all eligible electors. They vote and then return their completed ballot papers and elector certificates by post to the Returning Officer. The votes are counted on polling day.
Local governments or, by request, the Electoral Commissioner, can conduct voting-in-person elections. At these elections, electors vote at polling places within their district on polling day. At the voting-in-person elections, voter turnout rates vary greatly, from 13.75% to 69.86%, with a Statewide average of 32.64% in 2011.
Local governments are described as shires, towns or cities depending on their population and the proportion of residents that live in an urban area. Shires are generally located in rural areas. They tend to be smaller in terms of population but larger in land area. Towns usually have a higher population than shires and are found in suburban and regional country areas. Cities have the highest population and are found in the metropolitan area and major regional centres.
East Pilbara is the largest local government district in Australia. Spread over 377 553 kms2, the area is the size of Japan.
Peppermint Grove is the smallest local government district in Australia, occupying 1.5 km2.
Local government boundaries can be changed when members of the community or a council present a proposal to the Local Government Advisory Board. This Board is able to consider suggestions for changes to boundaries and wards, and make recommendations to the Minister for Local Government. Community groups making a request for change must have a certain number of petitioners; at least 250 or 10% of the total number of affected electors. The Minister may also ask the Board to conduct an enquiry and make recommendations.
The number of people living in local government areas varies a great deal. In July 2012 there were 61 electors in the Shire of Sandstone and 127,079 electors in the City of Stirling enrolled on the State Electoral Roll.