Australia, England & Wales, Global, Ireland, Scotland Democracy, devolution and governance

Welcome to the family LGiU Australia: why localism and globalism can and must go together


Photo: Hannah Muirhead 2019

This week we are launching LGiU Australia, a new service providing councils with the information, insight and ideas they need through policy briefings, a daily local government news digest and shared best practice. Our ambition is to create a network through which we can share policy innovation from around Australia and from around the world.

This initiative is rooted in our belief that a global perspective takes us to the heart of the local and that localism and globalism can, indeed must, go together.

At LGiU we have argued for many years that localism is important for three reasons

  • Localism has a democratic premium. All things being equal we should seek to give people the most influence possible over the places they live in, the public services they use and the lives they lead.
  • Complex problems are rarely solved by centralised one-size-fits-all solutions. Innovation must be local, responsive to specific contexts and drawing on the creativity and civic capacity of local people.
  • The really difficult challenges we face cannot be solved by institutions (of state or market), or communities or by citizens working alone but require a collective, collaborative engagement of all parts of the public realm.

And of course, local government is essential as the institutional form that facilitates and legitimises localism.

This is a familiar argument. But there’s a risk that it can take us inwards towards a limited conception of place rather than outwards to a global perspective. We need to resist this. Localism is not parochialism and no council is an island. We need connected localism; connected across service areas, across different parts of the public realm and across geographies.

It’s true of course that every place has its unique character and it’s true that local government has different structures and responsibilities. So here in Australia for example, local government is not as dominated by party politics as it is elsewhere and has a primary relationship with state not national government. And everywhere has specific challenges, for example many councils in Australia are still at the forefront of recovery from the devastating bush fires.

But there are also common issues that unite councils across the world both by virtue of our shared humanity and, structurally, because many of the challenges local government faces are global in their scope. Climate change, demographic shock, affordable housing, community resilience, big data, AI, economic development, technology shifts to name but a few: all global trends that come home to roost in local communities across the world and all issues that councils across the world are grappling with.

In that context it makes sense for local government to pool its collective intelligence and learn from the experiences of others. Recent LGIU work has shared stories about community engagement in London, urban densification in Johannesburg, combatting illegal dumping in West Sydney, digital government transformation in Estonia, early intervention on domestic abuse in Scotland and many, many more.

But these lessons are hard won and are not always obvious. It’s not as simple as just sharing best practice (is there even such a thing as ‘best’ practice?). `we have to attend to the hard work of unpicking the skeins of similarity and difference. Sometimes, it’s not about the solutions, but the structure of the problem, the methodological approach, or the questions asked en route to a different outcome.

There are no easy answers; no glib solutions. As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz once said; “If we wanted home truths we should have stayed at home”. But if local government is at its best when it is informed, engaged and networked, then we will all gain value from global perspectives, lessons and relationships.


Watch/listen to Jonathan and fellow panelists Ellen Witte and Mark Davies on the video feed from our panel discussion “Tackling Bis Issues Locally” – which was streamed live from our launch event in Melbourne. 


One thought on “Welcome to the family LGiU Australia: why localism and globalism can and must go together

  1. I wish to congratulate the LGiU for the creative work you are doing , especially , in providing creative tools for forward planning and help in shaping the kind of cities , villages, urban spaces and rural dwelling , post Covid 19.

    I wish this type of debate and discussion can be started in South Africa where I live and where I have been active , both as a former Director of Corporates Services , Director of Community and Social Services and Strategic Political Advisor , Policy , Research and Planning in the Office of the Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality , Eastern Cape , South Africa and also as a former Municipal Housing Accreditation Manager , Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, former Senior Project Manager for Built Environment and Human Settlement Short Learning Programmes of Nelson Mandela University , Port Elizabeth , Eastern Cape South Africa.

    Currently , I am a community activist involved in Civil Society Work , on the 21 May 2020 , a coalition of Civil Society and Social Movement under the Unemployment Peoples Movement (UPM) , we have won a historic land mark judgement for the dissolution of Makana Local Municipality. The situation in this particular municipality is far worse compared to other municipalities. It is difficult because , the municipality has failed to engage local civil society and local citizens. Communities and civil societies are battling alone , to some poor black working class communities , it is the end of the road , there is no hope the future. Since 2004 , after exposing corruption , maladministration and unethical behaviour and practices in this municipality , nothing good has ever came from the municipality , instead , the City has now moved from being a ”City of Saints into a City of Shame.” We really want to draw lessons and best practice from international in order to frame a coherent perspective that will guide local and stakeholders in terms of how can pool together , move collective and save our glorious city and develop a futuristic plan for the kind of a city we want to build , post Covid 19. One of the biggest challenges facing Makana Local Municipality , which is a microcosm of a broader national picture , include , a decaying infrastructure , an internal rot , which is a product of a corrupted deployment system of the dominant and ruling party , African National Congress (ANC), This party has been in power since 1994, Because of its dominance , we have experienced the following systemic root causes of municipal failure and collapse , namely ; (I) Factionalised Municipal Governance , (ii) Intra-and inter party political conflicts which spills over into institutions of local government , collapse the rule of law , promote chaos and patronage in staff appointment, (iii) Arrogance of power and social distance between the elected local representatives ( local Councillors) and the local citizens , where citizens complain about poor service delivery , manipulation of municipal projects to benefit supporters of a ruling party , jobs in the municipality are given to those who supported a winning faction within the organisation , which controls levers of local state power to entrench their hegemony and rule, (vi) corruption , this is a big problem , currently , we are sitting with serious corruption cases, the municipality has tried to keep these reports away from the eyes of the public , these are serious reports where no one has been arrested because , the crime fighting agencies takes their time to act. Many innocent citizens , including myself , we are victims as a result of being ”whistle blowers”, expose corruption. I am now taken to high court of South Africa for a defamation by the Member of the Eastern Cape Executive Council (MEC) For Transport , after exposing corruption in that department. On the 21 May 2021 , I appeared in the high court to ask for a postponement until I secure a legal representation.

    The MEC papers were delivered to me on the 16 May , Saturday , directing that , Monday , the 18 May , I must confirm in writing if I will oppose the application , Tuesday , 19 May I must file a formal notice of opposition , a replying affidavit and including supporting documents and that the matter was enrol in the Court roll on Thursday , 21 May , same week. This is a life of hardship , suffering of ordinary citizens we are going through. I am unemployed , to expect me to do all these things on a short notice was not practical. As a result , the high court has issued an interim order with some operating measures with immediate effect that , I must remove all my Facebook post as they defamatory and false, that I must not publish any information , that on the 25 June 2020 , I must come and tell the court why the high court cannot make these a final order , including , ordering that I pay the MEC R250 000.00 for damages , issue a written apology and pay her legal costs. All these happen under condition of lockdown , during Covid 19 global pandemic , I am unemployed . It looks like , access to justice is much easier for those in political office who can afford top legal representation. For the court to issue these , to a person who has no legal representation to advise me , facing an advocate who represented the Minister of Transport, these are painful moments and hardship we are going through. How I wish the LGiU can extend its wing into South Africa as want to learn how municipalities are cooperating with Civil Society and Local Citizens to strengthen grassroot and participatory democracy and what kind of support offered to civil society ?

    These are few comments , I hope , one day , the LGiU will send a delegation for a fact finding where we can host a local government summit to exchange lessons

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