Farewell chairperson, hello smaller elected bodies
On 30 June 2022, two of the most fundamental changes in decades regarding the constitution of South Australian local government councils commenced legislative operation, by way of amendment to the Local Government Act 1999 (LG Act). Those changes will take full effect upon and from the November 2026 periodic elections.
The first change is the removal of the council ‘Chairperson’ from the local government landscape.
Previously, a council and its constituents could choose (through the representation review process) between having a popularly-elected Mayor, or having a Chairperson chosen from among the council members, as the principal member of the Council. The Mayor or Chairperson (as the case may be) performs all the duties of a principal member, such as presiding at meetings, carrying out civic and ceremonial duties, and being the principal spokesperson of the council. Apart from the manner in which they are chosen, the only other major difference between a Mayor and Chairperson is that a Mayor has a casting vote in the event of an equality of votes (but not a deliberative vote), whereas a Chairperson has a deliberative vote like any other councillor (but not a casting vote).
From November 2026, councils will no longer be permitted to have a Chairperson. Effective immediately, no council may change from having a Mayor to a Chairperson. Already, popularly elected Mayors are by far the more common arrangement. The number of Chairpersons has declined over the decades, to that point that only a number of regional councils still have a Chairperson (and in many cases this member is called a ‘Mayor’).
Those councils which currently have a Chairperson will be required to have a popularly-elected Mayor from the 2026 periodic elections onwards, and will be required to conduct a representation review before that time.
The other important change to the LG Act is the imposition of a cap on council member numbers.
The cap is 13 members, including the Mayor. This cap also comes into effect from the 2026 periodic elections. Any council with a membership in excess of the cap will need to conduct a representation review before that time. However, a mechanism has been included in the LG Act whereby a council may, in the course of a representation review, obtain an exemption from the Electoral Commissioner to permit the council to be constituted of a number of members in excess of the cap.
Although these changes will not affect all councils, they are significant. The constitution of councils is not something the subject of frequent amendment. These two changes in particular address matters at the heart of the representative democratic function of local government councils.
Norman Waterhouse Lawyers has been advising councils upon the current reforms to the LG Act for some time, and will continue to do so as those reforms continue to take effect. Norman Waterhouse also has significant experience in conducting and assisting councils with representation reviews. Councils affected by the changes described in this article, or any other person seeking more information regarding these matters, are encouraged to contact Felice D’Agostino on +61 8 8210 1202 or email@example.com, Dale Mazzachi on +61 8 8210 1221 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Alexandrides on +61 8 8210 1299 or email@example.com.