whole-rootes-thesis.pdf (17.54 MB)
A chaotic state of affairs? : The permissive system of local government in rural Tasmania 1840-1907
thesisposted on 2023-05-27, 14:58 authored by Rootes, GL
This thesis examines local government in Tasmania between 1840 and 1907. It is primarily concerned with the establishment of the so-called 'permissive' system of local government, its evolution during the colonial period, and why it was eventually replaced by a system of comprehensive municipal government in 1907. The thesis pays particular attention to the relationship between the central government and local bodies, and argues that there was a significant shift in this relationship during the history of the permissive system. When Tasmania was granted responsible self-government in the 1850s, public opinion was decidedly in favour of promoting decentralization, and a flourishing system of local government was considered vital to ensure its success. Bills were soon passed allowing settlers to establish rural municipalities and road trusts to handle local affairs, and generous financial aid was supplied to help fledging local bodies onto their feet. During the 1860s and 1870s, with continuing financial constraints limiting its activity, the central government was content to encourage the spread of local institutions into regions of the colony that were steadily increasing in population and wealth. The 1870s, however, saw the first murmurs of discontent appear about the local bodies' poor handling of road maintenance, management of police, and lack of public works. Pressure was put on the central government to improve their performance. Subsequently, three reforms were enacted to improve the effectiveness of local bodies - franchise liberalization, local financial responsibility, and greater scrutiny of the actions of local bodies by government departments. There was a shift in emphasis, therefore, in the 1880s away from just encouraging the spread of local institutions to a focus on outcomes. This shift in emphasis would have a significant consequence for local government in the colony. The recession of the early 1890s, coupled with the reductions in government aid at the same time, revealed the weaknesses and flaws of the existing system. By Federation the permissive system of local government was under severe strain. The central government, unwilling and financially unable to take over the responsibilities of the existing local bodies, instead sought to rectify a major problem of the permissive system - the existence of a large number of small bodies with limited finances. The solution arrived at was to vest all local duties in the largest local body of the island- the municipal council. As there were only nineteen municipalities in rural Tasmania, existing in the corridor of flat plains between Hobart and Launceston, extra responsibilities for municipal councils meant that they had to be established throughout the island. The permissive system, in other words, had to give way to comprehensive municipal government. To present this argument, the thesis has been broken into three sections, with each section dealing with one broad question concerning the evolution of local government in the colonial period. The first section, consisting of two chapters, examines why the permissive system of local government was introduced into Tasmania and what was expected of it. The second section of the thesis will then deal with how the permissive system actually worked and evolved during its long history. This section is divided into four chapters, each dealing with the most important local bodies of the permissive system, such as rural municipalities, road trusts, fruit boards, rabbit boards and town boards. The third section containing the final two chapters deals with the issue of whythe permissive system was abolished and replaced by comprehensive municipal government.
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