The devolution of responsibilities to local government: A case study of the Queensland Environmental Protection Act

Davies, Adam Richard (2004). The devolution of responsibilities to local government: A case study of the Queensland Environmental Protection Act MPhil Thesis, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, The University of Queensland.

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Author Davies, Adam Richard
Thesis Title The devolution of responsibilities to local government: A case study of the Queensland Environmental Protection Act
School, Centre or Institute School of Geography, Planning and Architecture
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2004-09-21
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Supervisor Geoff McDonald
Joan Meecham
Total pages 109
Collection year 2004
Language eng
Subjects 760100 Environmental Policy, Legislation and Standards
360101 Australian Government and Politics
300800 Environmental Sciences
Formatted abstract Increased environmental awareness, and concern over the last decade and a half for the health of communities and natural systems, has seen new environmental programs and policies being developed with much emphasis being placed on decision making at the local level. Environmental management and protection is not new, but formal assessment, reporting and decision making processes have substantially increased.

Devolution of responsibilities occurs between higher and lower levels of government, with lower levels of government assuming full responsibility for devolved programs. Devolution as a concept is the source of much interest and debate within the literature on intergovernmental structures and arrangements. This debate is primarily focused on matters of capacity, related to issues of resource and functional capability. The advantages of effective devolution are clear with greater representation and decision making at the local level. However, this assumes that each lower level of government has the capacity to undertake the devolved responsibilities.

Rural, remote and small local governments typically have unique operational and resource constraints caused by large geographical territories and sparse populations serviced by small centres. In the Australian context the scale of local governments can be extreme. In the State of Queensland local governments range from having population sizes of 269 persons through to 899,604 persons. Typically where programs are devolved the same outcomes and procedural compliance is expected for each lower level of government.

This thesis examines the capacity of rural, remote and small local governments to undertake the devolved responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Queensland Government, 1994). A survey was undertaken of 104 local governments within groupings of local governments with populations less than 25,000 persons. The results of this survey were then analysed against five principles of governance: accountability; efficiency; effectiveness; coordination; and balance; to determine the effectiveness of undertaking the devolved responsibilities with accepted governance practices.

It was found that rural, remote and small local governments undertake and fulfil the devolved responsibilities of the Act at a basic level. Diminished adherence to accountability and efficiency, which was related to a limited scale of activity, was evident. It was also found in many local governments, due to limited activity and local parochial factors, that the costs associated with undertaking the responsibilities are shared amongst ratepayers. A greater level of adherence to the principles of effectiveness, coordination and balance were achieved.

The results of the survey indicate that there needs to be improved design, and implementation of devolved programs. Where scale of activity is correlated with local government population size, particularly where there are high incidences of smaller local governments, more appropriate structures including discretionary regional cooperation should be considered by policy makers. Policy makers must give due consideration to the duplication of services and associated factors relating to personnel and resource capability and support mechanisms.

This thesis does not question the economic efficiency of rural, remote and small local governments but it has been found that matters of efficiency overall must be considered in e allocation of roles and responsibilities for individual programs.
Keyword Decentralization in government -- Queensland -- Case studies.
Environmental policy -- Queensland.
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Variant title: The devolution of responsibilities to local government

 
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