Local Government Matters

6 September 2016 | Posted In: 130 – Spring 2016, Civil Society Issues, Government, | Author: Roberta Ryan

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It’s often thought that most Australians think of their local government as merely about roads, rates and rubbish. Our research, Why Local Government Matters¸ revealed that this is far from the case explains Roberta Ryan.

We asked over 2,500 people across Australia about their attitudes about local government. This type of research had never been done before in Australia. The results revealed a rich and at times surprising story.

When the data was analysed Australia-wide and on a state by state basis it demonstrated that there are significant differences in people’s attitudes about local government depending on whether they are an owner or renter, live in a house or an apartment, live in an inner or outer metropolitan area and the state in which they live.

Inner versus outer metropolitan areas

Our findings in terms of inner and outer metropolitan areas raised a number of interesting issues. Across Australia, inner metropolitan residents were more likely than people who live in outer metropolitan areas to report that:

  • The area where they live reflects the type of person they are
  • The area where they live has the qualities they value
  • They feel connected locally to friends and neighbours
  • They feel a cultural connection to the area

But there was no difference between inner and outer metropolitan residents as to whether:

  • They feel part of the history of the place where they live
  • They feel at home where they live
  • The area where they live is full of important memories and stories
  • Living where they do makes them feel good
  • The landscape around them makes them feel good

Inner metropolitan NSW residents were more likely to strongly agree that:

  • there is something about the landscape around them that makes them feel good
  • the area where they live is full of important memories and stories
  • they feel connected locally to friends and neighbours
  • they feel a cultural connection to the area

Apartments versus houses

Our research revealed surprising similarities between apartment and house residents’ attitudes. Overall, over 80 per cent of apartment and house residents both reported there is something about the landscape around them that makes them feel good and that they feel at home where they live.

Almost two thirds of both apartment and house residents across Australia reported the area where they live is full of important memories and stories. Of note is that apartment residents in NSW are two and a half times more likely to feel this way than their South Australian counterparts.

Australia wide homeowners are more likely than renters to report that there is something about the landscape around them that makes them feel good. While this isn’t particularly surprising of note is that in NSW the same proportion of renters and home owners feel the same way.

As you might expect home owners feel more at home where they live (91%) but interestingly 83% of renters also feel this way. Again in NSW the same proportion of renters and home owners tend to feel the same way.

Another interesting result was that in NSW almost two thirds of renters reported that the area where they live is full of important memories and stories compared to just over half of renters Australia wide.

Apartment residents are more likely than house residents to report they feel connected locally.

In NSW 44% of apartment residents feel connected, compared to 30% of house residents.

Decision-making at different levels of government

The majority of Australians significantly value local government for three main reasons:

  1. Local government delivers local services well
  2. People have access to local government
  3. Local government understands the local area.

House residents and renters almost saw eye to eye on whether local government is best able to make decisions about their area, with just a 4% difference. Although house residents in outer metropolitan areas were more likely than apartment residents to think this was the case.

For NSW residents, there is a generally lower regard for state government. Compared to other states, in NSW renters in outer metropolitan areas were much more likely than renters in inner metropolitan areas to think local government is best able to make decisions about their area.

When inner metropolitan residents were compared across Australia, those in NSW were much more likely to think state government (26%), and much less likely to think local government (60%), is best able to make decisions about their area. While in outer metropolitan NSW house renters were more than two times as likely as house owners to think local government is best able to make decisions about their area.

So what does this all mean?

The findings raise a number of important points about the differences between people’s attitudes depending on their types of dwelling, tenure and location, among other things.

Inner metropolitan residents were arguably more satisfied with where they live compared to outer metropolitan residents. In fact residents in inner metropolitan NSW and Victoria were the most satisfied – but for different reasons. In NSW it was more about the picturesque inner urban landscape (i.e. Sydney Harbour), whereas in Victoria it was more about the urbane setting reflecting who they are.

Generally, apartment dwellers appear more satisfied with the place where they live than house dwellers. Where apartment dwellers aren’t more satisfied, they are at least equally satisfied. Apartment dwellers also appear to be more connected, both locally and culturally, to the place where they live.

Another interesting finding was that apartment and house residents appear equally pleased with the landscape around them, the way in which the area where they live reflects themselves, and felt that the place where they live has the qualities they value.

One of strongest messages is that the Australian dream of owning a house on a quarter acre block as a core aspect of a satisfied life does not necessarily ring true.

Apartment residents in NSW are more likely to report there is something about the landscape that makes them feel good. It could be argued that apartment owners in inner metropolitan NSW are most satisfied with the place where they live nationally.

Interestingly in the areas that appeared most satisfied, there was a general view that local government is best placed to make decisions about these areas. Whilst in those areas that appeared least satisfied, there is a general view that state government is best placed to make decisions. This reveals an important relationship between state and local governments in building and maintaining great places. State government is definitely important in enhancing the capacity of governments at all levels to shape great places, whilst local government plays a fundamental role in ongoing place management.

Why Local Government Matters raises a number of important issues for policy makers in terms of people’s attitudes about place, government and the community. As the structure of NSW local government is undergoing radical change, people’s responses will become increasingly more important.

Why Local Government Matters report and resources can be downloaded from the UTS:IPPG website www.ippg.uts.edu.au

Associate Professor Roberta Ryan, Director UTS Institute for Public Policy and Governance, UTS Centre for Local Government, University of Technology Sydney

Why Local Government Matters report and resources can be downloaded from the UTS:IPPG website http://www.uts.edu.au/research-and-teaching/our-research/public-policy-and-governance/about-institute/about-acelg/why

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