Since the arrival in Western Australia of British settlers with a desire for self-government, many pieces of legislation have been introduced to weave the fabric of what Local Government is today.
The first piece of legislation was the Towns Improvement Act 1838. The current legislation governing the functions of Local Government is the Local Government Act 1995. A range of additional legislation influences Local Government in Western Australia, particularly in relation to health, environmental management, land use planning, waste management, traffic and road safety, and community governance.
The Local Government Act 1995 requires each Council to have a minimum of six and a maximum of 15 Elected Members, with the number of Elected Members decided by Councils to meet the needs of each Local Government area.
Traditionally, Councils have been divided into Wards. However, in recent years, more and more councils have resolved to abolish Wards and move to a whole of Council approach in relation to the number of Councillors representing their communities. This has led to a reduction in the number of Councillors in Western Australia.
In 1981, there were 1,396 Elected Members in WA. This number was reduced to 1,382 in 2003 and in 2015 the number of Councillors has been further reduced to 1,225.
Women were permitted membership on Road Boards from 1911 and Municipal Corporations from 1919. In 1981, there were 108 women (8% of Elected Members). In 2001 this number increased to 308 (22%) and in 2015, there were 407 female Elected Members (33.2%). Of the 139 Local Governments in WA (including Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island), there are 40 female Mayors and Presidents, representing 29% of all Mayors and Presidents.
Twenty-four Mayors and one President are elected for a four-year term by public vote. The remaining 114 Mayors and Presidents are elected as Councillors by public vote and to the position of Mayor or President for a two-year term by members of the individual Council.