Local Governments are not illegal - here's why

By Jason Smith

Almost every time we mention something the local council is doing (or not doing), somebody takes it upon themselves to let the world know that local governments are illegal. They saw it on the internet somewhere, or a bloke told them over a beer one day, or maybe they know the world famous Wayne Glew... but sadly they are very much mistaken. It only takes a few minutes of proper research to find out that it is completely untrue.  

First, a little background.  

There is a man from Greenough named Wayne Glew who decided he thought that local governments were illegal and thus he didn't have to pay his rates. His argument went something along the lines of "local governments are not mentioned in the Australian constitution therefore they have no right to exist."

On the surface that sounds good. A quick glance at the Australian constitution would show no mention of the local government councils, and if you believe that only things that are in the Australian constitution are allowed to exist, then Wayne Glew is right.  

But to be very clear, the Australian constitution DOES NOT forbid the creation of local government councils, it just does not REQUIRE them. So if the state of Western Australia decided one day it no longer wanted local governments to exist, the Federal government could not force the Western Australian government to keep them around. 

Also to be clear, the Australian (or Commonwealth) constitution does endow the states with the rights and power to govern and make laws. So WA has the right to do what it likes, and unless the laws WA makes CONFLICT with Australian Federal law, then all is well.

In 1988, Australia had a referendum over whether to alter the Australian Constitution to REQUIRE states to have local government councils. This referendum did not pass, but it did not imply that councils were therefore illegal. It just meant they were STILL optional, and each state could decide on its own whether it wanted them or not.  

What does the Western Australian constitution say? 

In the same way that Australia has a special document called the constitution, Western Australia has one. 

Western Australia's constitution EXPLICITLY MENTIONS local governments.

The Western Australian constitution in section 52 REQUIRES that local governments exist. It states that the legislature SHALL maintain a system of local government. It also grants the legislature the ability to provide POWER to those local governments. 

So to put it in layman's terms... If you believe the constitution of Western Australia is legitimate, then you have to accept that it is ILLEGAL for local governments not to exist, and you also have to admit that the state government has the right to GIVE POWER to those local governments. That is to say, they can charge rates, enforce fines, and collect your rubbish. 

What happened with Wayne Glew? 

Wayne Glew used to be a cop, so he understood how easy it was to take anyone to court about anything, and wasn't daunted by the process. Thus he filled out the forms he needed to, paid the small application fees and went to court. 

It made headlines all over Australia, as it sounded like a David v Goliath story. "Man stands up to local government who just wants his money."  Heck, we all hate paying rates, so how cool would it be if a court decided we don't have to?!

But the stories about him losing in every single court he went to sadly didn't get the same publicity, and lots of people still think he went to court and had some success. He didn't.

Also, the fact that he went to court seems to add some legitimacy to his case in the minds of lots of people. It doesn't. Anyone can dispute anything in court, or at least apply to. This is what Wayne Glew did.  

He lost in the Local Court, The District Court, The Court of Appeal, The Supreme Court of Western Australia; and the High Court of Australia actually dismissed his case peremptorily (that means "Putting an end to all debate or action").

The Court of Appeal actually said Wayne Glew's arguments were "entirely lacking in legal merit." 

Wayne Glew also went on to pay his rates, $3,183.60 in 2008 and $1,369.60 in 2006.

 We hear from others that Mr Glew claims he doesn't pay rates, but that is untrue.

Why does Wayne Glew matter? 

Have you ever received an email from your mum, asking you to forward that email on so Bill Gates will give 5 cents to a sick child? 

Your mum isn't stupid, she just didn't know how easy it is with technology to make something that is complete rubbish seem legitimate with professional looking text and images.  Also not quite understanding how technology works (who does?) contributes. 

And now Wayne Glew, and others, are promoting their opinions about the legality of local governments to others on the internet, and through community forums and meetings.  

Clearly influenced by Mr Glew's arguments, other Greater Geraldton residents are fighting the City of Greater Geraldton trying to avoid paying their rates, only to find out that Wayne Glew's arguments were entirely lacking legal merit. Some have had to pay $10,000 or more in legal fees as well as still having to pay their rates, all because they believed Mr Glew rather than reading the Western Australian constitution themselves. 

But even when Wayne Glew loses in court, he just throws his hands up and calls those courts illegal or corrupt. 

Don't believe everything you read or hear

Just because someone says something in a convincing tone, doesn't make what they're saying true.  

If you want to do your own research, here's a document that might be of interest.  

Also you can read the Australian Constitution here. 

And the Western Australian constitution here

We're not sticking up for every decision the council has ever made. But we are sticking up for voters' decisions to be upheld. And WA voters elected people to govern who decided to implement local governments in our state. It's not illegal, it's the will of the people and it's written into law and the WA constitution. 

Besides, do you really want the federal government in Canberra responsible for maintaining playground equipment in Rangeway?

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Jason Smith

Founder of Everything Geraldton, Everything Mandurah, & Everything Perth. Law Student. Father, Husband, Bitcoin, Cigars.