Discussion paper

This paper on the changing role of mayors, and how that role might be strengthened, seeks to fill one of several significant gaps in research and discussion of political governance in Australian local government.
It reviews relevant literature and recent developments in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, and concludes that if local government is to perform effectively and meet growing community expectations, the capacity of its political arm needs to be enhanced. In that regard, the office of mayor seems a good place to start. The final section of the paper thus sets out a suggested framework of mayoral functions and associated legislative provisions to support an enhanced role.
Recent decades have seen significant developments in the role of mayors across the world. These developments have mirrored the widening international discourse on local governance and civic leadership, and are part of broader changes sweeping through local government. Australian local governments have been subject to wide‐ranging reforms that have addressed structure and efficiency, strategic planning, asset and financial management, community engagement and accountability, and corporate governance. However, little attention has been given to how the intended direction of such reforms interacts with frameworks for political and community governance.
This contrasts markedly with the consistent focus on trends in local politics evident in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. In those countries particular attention has been given to the importance of mayors as civic leaders, and there has been extensive debate about, amongst other things, how the role of mayors should be structured and evolve, as well as the relative merits of different models of governance.
Image: Campbell Newman when mayor of Brisbane, David Jackmanson / flickr

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