The principal legislation in Victoria governing the establishment and operation of councils is the Local Government Act 1989, and the Local Government Act 2020, along with various Regulations made under the Acts. They define the purposes and functions of local government as well as providing the legal framework for establishing and administering Councils.
The Act gives the Victorian Parliament the power to make laws it considers necessary for local government, including laws relating to the constitution of councils, council elections and the powers and duties of councillors and council staff. Both Local Government Acts include a preamble or purpose to reflect the recognition given to local government in the Victorian Constitution.
Local government has special recognition in the Victorian Constitution Act 1975. The Victorian Constitution recognises local councils as "a distinct and essential tier of government". Under Section 74 of the Constitution Act democratically elected councils are to ensure "the peace, order and good government of each municipal district". Local government is established under State legislation.
The status of local government in the Victorian constitution is protected. Part 2A of the Constitution Act which covers local government, cannot be repealed or amended unless the change is approved by a majority of Victorian electors voting in a referendum.
Regulations made under the Local Government Act include:
While generally regulated by the Local Government Act, the City of Melbourne has their own additional legislation in the form of the City of Melbourne Act 2001.
The City of Melbourne Act includes extra objectives that recognise the unique role of the City of Melbourne as Victoria's capital city, and the special relationship that exists between it and the state and federal governments as a result of this position. It also provides a different electoral system for the City of Melbourne.
As well as the general powers and responsibilities given to them under the Local Government Act, local councils are responsible for a wide range of services and functions under various other Act of Parliament. These are administered by a number of different Ministers and State Government departments.
Examples, not covered under the Local Government Act and not handled by Local Government Victoria, include land use planning, building control, some public health services, domestic animal control, litter control, parking, roads and traffic.
In fact councils have responsibilities under more than 120 different Victorian pieces of legislation. All Victorian legislation can be viewed at the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website, and Federal legislation is also available at the Federal Register of Legislation.