In 2016 the Why Local Government Matters in South Australia research sought to investigate the value of local government to South Australians. The project was undertaken by the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney with funding from the Research and Development Scheme of the Local Government Association of South Australia and the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government. The project follows the 2014/15 nation-wide survey, Why Local Government Matters which examined Australian attitudes to local government. This project took an in-depth look at South Australia. The project methodology involved:
- an online panel survey of 1002 South Australians (from metropolitan Adelaide and country areas)
- four focus groups (from inner city, outer suburbs and rural centres), and
- data from the national online survey (from the 2015 Why Local Government Matters research project).
The research focussed on four central questions:
- What does place mean to people?
- What should be the role of government in local service delivery?
- What do people think about the role of local government?
- Does a person’s attachment to place, attitudes about service delivery or governance and the conception of the role of local government change depending on where they live, key demographic variables and their political values?
The research findings present an intricate and rich story about the value of local government to South Australians. Generally, South Australians feel emotionally connected to their local areas, with over 60% of respondents strongly or moderately agreeing that they feel at home in their local area and 37% strongly or moderately agreeing that their local area reflects the type of person they are. Similarly, focus groups revealed that emotional connection to place connected with feeling part of a community, and feeling as if your values and interests are reflected in your local area.
Survey respondents were generally in favour of shared services, with over 70% of respondents strongly or moderately agreeing that councils should work with each other and governments as well as service providers. While the online survey did not ask about amalgamation, focus group participants found that there are positive aspects of amalgamation, including the ability for councils to ‘bulk buy’, pool resources and share knowledge, but that these are outweighed by negative aspects including unequal distribution of services in larger areas, contactors taking jobs from local businesses and the loss of local representation.
Overall, the research found that South Australians value local governments role in promoting the benefits to the local community (65%), planning for the future (81%), economic development (71%) . South Australians also value the role of local government promoting health and wellbeing and area promotion.
This report provides the results of the research on how South Australians perceive local government and its role in society. The knowledge gained has the potential to assist policy makers across all levels of government to deliver policy outcomes that effectively respond to the needs of communities.