Party politics and local government in Australia: Stability, change and implications for Australia’s polity

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Conference Proceeding
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Citable. Dewhurst. Grant. Huuskes. APSA:IPSA 2018.pdfAccepted Manuscript version834.82 kB
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Local government and state-local government relations across Australia’s seven jurisdictions continue to be sites of robustly contested reforms. Both scholarly and media attention perennially focus upon several key types of reforms, most saliently [i] structural reform, or the threat of structural reforms, to whole jurisdictions or metropolitan regions; [ii] cost-shifting (in the parlance of North America, ‘unfunded mandates’); [iii] the enduring question of the financial sustainability of local government; and [iv] changes to arrangements for appointed and elected leaders. However, comparatively little attention has been paid to both the stability of, and changes to, party-politics in local government, which we define as the effect of party-political affiliation upon candidates for local government elections and their appointment, and the effect of party-political affiliation upon local government operations. While local government in Australia has infamously been labelled non-party political, recent research examining party-political affiliation in local government in New South Wales (NSW) for the elections held in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2107 has revealed a marked increase in party-politicisation, particularly in metropolitan areas, accompanied by claims of political gerrymandering. The research presented for IPSA 2018 will examine these results. Specifically, the declared party-political affiliation of candidates and elected representatives are compared with self-described ‘independent’ candidates for recent local government elections are compared and mapped against the Australian Classification of Local Governments (ACLG) which is deployed as a measure of regionalism. The implications for, first, local government operations, second, state-local relations and third, the Australian federation are explored.
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