May 9 / Emma Broomfield

How much does a councillor get paid?

The simple answer is... it depends!

Ever wondered how much a councillor gets paid in New South Wales? The simple answer to this question is - it depends! It depends on two things - first, the size (geographic and population), nature and location of the council. And second, whether you take on the additional responsibilities of the Mayor.

So, here's the lowdown: councillors receive an annual fee for their civic duties and get reimbursed for relevant expenses. The Mayor, stepping into a position of added leadership, earns an additional fee.

How are the annual fees set?

Now, you might be wondering, "How's this annual fee determined?" Well, enter the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal. The Tribunal sets the minimum and maximum annual fees, influenced by factors like location, population, and council size. The annual fee ranges from... well, it depends on where you are! In the Tribunal's review in 2023, they expanded categories for both metropolitan and non-metropolitan councils to take into account the changing nature of some local government areas. In the latest review in 2024, the Tribunal determined a 3.75% per year increase in the minimum and maximum range. 

After the Tribunal sets the range, each individual council determines the annual fee. There will be a report to the elected council and a decision documented in the minutes. Usually (although not always) councils resolve to pay the maximum fee.

What are the current annual fees?

Generally, the larger city based councils pay a higher fee to elected representatives compared to rural councils. For example, at the City of Sydney the annual fee for a councillor will be between $30,720 and $45,070. Whilst the Mayor will be paid an additional fee between $188,010 and $247,3900. By comparison, in a regional centre like MidCoast a councillor will be paid between $15,370 and $27050. Whilst the Mayor will be paid an an extra amount between $31,980 and $66,800.

If you are curious about how much your local councillors get paid, then check the Tribunal's most recent decision and your Council's business papers. Councils can choose to adopt a fee anywhere in the range and if they don't, then the minimum annual fee is paid.

What else is covered?

Beyond the annual fee, councillors can claim expenses for their civic duties. This includes travel, professional development, conferences and child-care. Each council has its own policy, setting out what's covered and how to claim. Councils also often provide facilities for councillors. For example, a room for councillors to meet or resources for councillor to use such a phone and ipad. The Mayor will typically have a dedicated office and meeting space, and may also get a car and some administration assistance. 

Again, to find out what expenses and facilities are covered by your specific council, check the council website and read the latest policy (Hint: search for the words Policy on Payment of Expenses and Provision of Facilities to Councillors).

What about other entitlements?

Now, what about other entitlements like superannuation and leave? The good news is that from July 2022, councils have the option to contribute to councillors' super. But this is optional - councils may decide to pay super or they may not. Again, check what your local council has decided by checking the minutes. Even if a council has opted to pay super, an individual councillor can still opt out of receiving it.

Also whilst the annual fee is subject to tax, being a councillor isn't technically a job and you're not an employee. So there is no workers' compensation or paid leave such as sick days or paid parental leave. This has recently been cited by one high profile councillor as a reason for  stepping down from the role as its impossible to juggle parenthood with the role without these entitlements.

Does the system need to change?

So here's where it gets juicy. There's an ongoing debate about whether councillors are paid enough in NSW. Some argue the current renumeration structure doesn't do justice to the workload, responsibilities, and skills required, particularly when compared to other jurisdictions and similar roles. The criteria that is used for determining the annual fee is now 30 years old and doesn't reflect changes in technology, community expectations, and the evolving nature of the civic life. The Tribunal has suggested it's time for a fresh look at the remuneration framework, which we whole heartedly agree with. 

And diversity? That's a hot topic too. Historically, younger people, women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and members of culturally and linguistically diverse communities among others, have been underrepresented in many councils. The pay and conditions are often cited as a barrier to increasing their political participation, with those that have the financial means stepping forward. The Apolitical Foundation's Mere Mortals report highlighted that financial barriers might be keeping aspiring leaders at bay and also that the lack of adequate pay is a cause of stress on the mental wellbeing of those that do take on the role. This clearly needs to change. 

Hungry for more insights? Stay connected with us! We're here to keep councillors, councils, and community leaders in the loop with all things local government. Join our mailing list.

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