Why your vote matters in local government

Have you ever voted in a local government (AKA council, shire) election? While federal and state elections receive their fair share of media coverage, local government elections can fly by the radars of some of us... Here's five reasons why not voting is a total missed opportunity for you.

Parks, transport, urban planning, community services + more:

Council's oversee and deliver a diverse range of services to the community that have a direct impact on your life. This can include everything from economic development activities (i.e. local jobs), green spaces and parks, the direction and approval of urban planning and development, libraries, art galleries and other cultural spaces and public transport. Additionally, they're involved in the delivery of community services like youth centres, language classes, volunteering, sports centres and awesome services that mean elderly folk can remain living independently (i.e. less pressure on public health services). 

So if you are pro/anti high rise buildings, clean water, transport, adequate parking, jogging paths, local sport, fast wifi at the library, community noodle nights (or whatever), you should probably check out who is running for election and whether they plan to do the things that make your life nice. 

 Image:  Aranxa esteve

They advocate for stuff on your behalf:

Part of the role of council to advocate for the needs of the local community and many councils have dedicated staff that specialise in consulting and representing the needs of young people. IRL this can mean consulting with local people such as yourself to identify what the council should deliver directly to you while also looking at big picture trends and advocating for the allocation of resources to your community at state government level.

Read: council staff often sit in boring* meetings and write long reports arguing for the stuff you want like more convenient public transport, closer tertiary education institutions and affordable housing. Probs worth checking out whether anyone is running that can advocate for the things you care about. 

* Depending on who you are, meetings may not actually be boring. Often they have pastries.

It can be easier to make your voice heard:

We recently interviewed the Mayor of Ryde (Sydney), Jerome Laxale who was first elected at 27 and become Ryde's youngest Mayor at 31. We asked how he thinks young people can influence what's going on in their community without actually getting involved in politics themselves. He had this to say:

"On an issue – just contact your local representative. If you get a group of 10, 15, 20 people to write a letter on the same issue, it's amazing how people react to that. Surprisingly, 10 emails on an issue is a lot. Form a community with your neighbours, or peers, or friends, or other uni students, or school students and either write to them (your elected representative), contact them on social media, or make a meeting with them...They may choose to totally ignore that and that’s their decision. But then you have done what you can to influence them. Now, I have done this – I have contacted our state and federal member on a number of issues; they totally ignored it. But that’s their decision and if the people don’t like it then they’ll be voted out at the next election."

Y Vote:  Have you got an example of when you, or council, have held a position on something and you have been persuaded by the community to change your tact on that?

"That does happen at the local level. Council wanted to build a synthetic field instead of a grass pitch at another site and again, through a community campaign of football clubs we managed to convince council to build it at another area and to build more than just one. Particularly in local government there is more than one person representing your area so if you’re not having luck with one, I’d encourage you to go to another and another until you find a champion for your cause and work with them to try and affect that change."

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They fund things that are specific to the needs of your community and that fall through the gaps:

Due to their relatively small size, councils often have a stronger awareness of and connection to the needs of the local community. Being non-giant-like also enables things that big government likes such as the ability to be agile and respond to emerging needs. What does this mean for us Gen Y's in practice? Well... sometimes councils fund necessary programs in school like anti-bullying, leadership, mental health and sex-ed programs. 

Many also have grants for community groups and businesses to deliver local initiatives as well as funding to support individuals with unique opportunities such as attending conferences. Got an invite to the World Forum On The Thing You're Excellent At? Want to start a community garden? It's worth checking out which of the candidates running for election support this kind of initiative.

It's soooo local. Even the campaign platforms are local. 

 Image source:  ABC News

Image source: ABC News

Where following federal and state elections are won on broad policy platforms, local government elections are often fought on very specific, localised agendas. Why not use your vote to demonstrate your support for the local issues you care about?! 

Take action: 

Find out when your next council election is (and all the other stuff they do) by visiting your council's website and Facebook. We also recommend checking out the community advisory panels, consultations and youth representative councils as options for making your voice heard. 

Learn when your next council election is here:

(Also follow the links to update your enrolment details if there is a local government election coming up).

Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern TerritoryQueensland, Tasmania.