These are Commonwealth and local government. Each level of government has different responsibilities and powers.

13.1 Commonwealth Government

The Commonwealth or Australian Government is Australia’s national government. It implements laws made by the Parliament of Australia and consists of two houses – the House of Representatives and the Senate. Commonwealth government responsibilities include foreign affairs, social security, trade, immigration, currency and defence. Income tax and the collection of various levies are also a Commonwealth responsibility. Additionally, the Commonwealth government administers assistance programs such as Medicare and a range of programs administered by Centrelink.

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13.2 Intergovernmental Forums

13.2.1 Council of Australian Governments

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is the peak intergovernmental forum in Australia. It comprises the Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association. The Prime Minister chairs COAG. COAG does not have a constitutional status.

The role of COAG is to initiate, develop and monitor implementation of policy reforms that are of national significance and which require cooperative action by Australian governments. Recent areas of focus include Closing the Gap, health reform and counter-terrorism. COAG meets at least once per year. Communiqués are released at the end of each meeting which document the outcomes of COAG meetings.

COAG is supported by a Senior Officials’ Group which includes the heads of the relevant Commonwealth, state and territory First Ministers’ departments and the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Local Government Association. It generally meets prior to each COAG meeting to discuss the agenda and arrangements for the meeting.

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13.2.2 Ministerial Councils

There are nine COAG Councils. These Councils progress COAG priorities and referrals of work, along with other issues of national significance. In addition, the Councils develop policy reforms and other advice for COAG consideration, and oversee the delivery and review of reforms agreed by COAG. The COAG Councils are composed of the Ministers (of the Commonwealth and each state and territory) with relevant subject responsibility. Membership may also include the Australian Local Government Association and representatives from New Zealand, where appropriate.

In addition to COAG Councils, there are also Commonwealth-State Ministerial Councils. These facilitate consultation and cooperation between the Australian government and state and territory governments in specific policy areas, as well with the New Zealand government where appropriate. Specific policy areas include police and emergency management, consumer affairs, environment and primary industries. The councils initiate, develop and monitor policy reform jointly, and take joint action in the resolution of issues that arise between governments.

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13.2.3 Council for the Australian Federation

The Council for the Australian Federation (CAF) was formed in October 2006 to support the federal system by providing an intergovernmental forum for state and territory leaders in Australia. Each state and territory Premier or Chief Minister is a member of CAF, creating a collective opportunity to pursue common interests and achieve joint success for the betterment of the Australian people.

The Council’s objectives are to:

  • work toward common understanding of the states’ and territories’ positions in relation to policy issues involving the Commonwealth government; and
  • take a leadership role on key national policy issues, including the federation, that are not addressed by the Commonwealth government.

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13.3 Local Government

Local government is established under the Local Government Act 1989. It has the functions and powers that the Parliament considers are necessary to ensure the peace, order and good government of each municipal district. The Victorian Constitution also recognises local councils as a tier of government. The decision-making body of local government is usually called the city council or shire council. The council is a democratically elected body that provides representation for a specific geographic area. Victoria currently has 79 councils.

Local government activities are diverse and extensive. They maintain significant infrastructure, provide a range of services and enforce various laws. Community infrastructure includes roads, bridges, drains, town halls, libraries, recreation facilities, parks and gardens. Services are also diverse. They include property, economic, human, recreational and cultural services. Councils also enforce state and local laws relating to such matters as land use planning, environment protection, public health, traffic, parking and animal management.

In order to finance their activities, councils are granted certain powers to raise funds, particularly through the levying of municipal rates. Councils also receive grant funding from the Commonwealth and state governments for municipal purposes.

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