Local government has a limited constitutional position in Australia, being organised under state or territory legislation upon broadly similar lines across Australia. The main variation is the existence of various councils in the Northern Territory that are based on rural Aboriginal communities. There are no local councils in the Australian Capital Territory, where the territory government has direct responsibility for local services. Local government in Australia is unlike that in many other political systems, for it provides an unusually narrow range of services.
Each state and the Northern Territory has a number of local government areas, known variously as cities, towns, municipalities, boroughs, shires or districts. The generic local body is the council. In May 2001 there were 687 local councils. Most councillors and aldermen are elected by local residents, though councils may be dismissed by state governments and occasionally are.
Within each local government area various local services are provided, though there are many variations between states as well as between urban and rural councils. The Brisbane City Council is responsible for the provision of services across most of Brisbane; by contrast, many small rural councils provide a relatively small number of services. Among the local responsibilities are the management of health, sanitary and garbage services, road, street and bridge construction, water supply and sewerage, museums, fire brigades, harbour services and local libraries. The scope of local government duties differs a great deal around the nation, for in all states many of these duties are performed either directly by the state government or through semi-government authorities, known in Australia as statutory authorities. The provision of household water, for instance, is typically undertaken by a statutory authority operating under state legislation.