The fourth level of government

Most people will know that the Federal Government takes care of things that affect Australia as a whole, such as Defence, foreign affairs, trade, immigration, citizenship, currency, banking, insurance, taxation, posts and communications, and so on.

State and territory governments are responsible for law enforcement, provision and use of schools, hospitals, major roads, energy and water supplies, and other matters applicable to that state in ways not necessarily the same as in other states.

Local and municipal governments, usually operating with authority given them by state legislation, manage things like  town planning, building approvals, parks and gardens, public recreation facilities, street cleaning and maintenance, waste removal, and so on. As a rule, local governments have the power to make regulations governing the application of the standards adopted for the area they administer.

Most people who live in Canberra know that here, most state and municipal functions are subsumed in the responsibilities of the Legislative Assembly, and allocated among its various directorates. Generally speaking, as citizens of the ACT, all residents are subject to all of the laws and regulations made by the Assembly regardless of where in the territory they live.

Most citizens of Canberra are familiar with and accept the ways in which municipal services are provided to them and with the rules that regulate their use of facilities managed by the municipal directorates of the ACT Government. Those rules and regulations were formulated to suit a time when most people lived in separate houses in suburban streets.

Now however, in ever increasing numbers, citizens are moving from their traditional separate houses to units and apartments. This is in addition to the many citizens who may never have had or wanted a separate house, while the budget of others may not allow for anything else but a small unit or apartment.

Units and apartments are organised into Owners Corporations (OC's), which have rules additional to the familiar state and municipal regulations administered by the ACT Government. Every owner of a unit or apartment is a member of a corporation and is legally obliged to comply with its rules as well as government legislation. To this extent, the owners corporation is a fourth level of government.

Members of the OC, as well as complying with the corporation’s rules, must also contribute to its costs, such as insuring the buildings and maintaining the common property. They must get far more involved with their neighbours, and contribute more directly than ever before to the management of their home and the area around it.

The legislation that creates an OC gives its members a limited, but inescapable degree of democratic self rule. If you buy a unit or apartment, whether you like it or not, you become a citizen of that fourth level of government and you must abide by its rules.

Note: The main legislation that establishes and regulates owners corporations is the Unit Titles (Management) Act. It can be downloaded, free of charge, here.