by Lauren DeLorenzo, Journalist, Council magazine
From David Attenborough to Adele, royal titles are typically bestowed in recognition of an individual’s contribution to their field. So why do some Australian councils have a lord mayor while others miss out on the title, and what does it mean for local governments?
Australia has over 500 local government councils, but only a select few of them elect lord mayors.
Melbourne, Perth, Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin each have a lord mayor, recognising the capital cities as prominent areas for culture and history.
The British monarchy has also bestowed the title on Parramatta, Wollongong and Newcastle after they reached significant milestones.
Here, Council dives into why these cities were granted the title, how a mayor can be nominated, and what being lord mayor actually means.
The significance of a Lord Mayor title
The title of lord mayor does not come with any additional powers or advantages, save for the recognition it brings to the reputation of the council.
So what is it that sets lord mayors apart from regular mayors? Is it undertaking significant charity work? Setting forth grand council initiatives? Making bold policy decisions?
The answer is that there are no specific criteria to be eligible for the title of lord mayor.
Historically, the title has been granted to mayors of certain capital cities in Commonwealth countries. A handful of lord mayor positions exist in the UK, Canada and Uganda, where they are ceremonial posts recognising major cities.
In Ireland, which split from the Commonwealth and became a republic in 1949, the title of lord mayor has been kept in the country’s capital, Dublin, and in Cork as a symbolic title.
In Australia, the title functions a little differently, as the mayor of every capital city in the country is given lord mayor status. But, it’s not just capital cities that are eligible for the title. In the UK, Bradford was granted the honour as it was (at the time) the largest municipality without the lord mayor title.
Other cities in the UK, like Kingston upon Hull and Newcastle upon Tyne, were granted lord mayorship status due to their proximity and importance to sea ports.
Do Lord Mayors have additional responsibilities?
Mayors not only represent councils in civic and ceremonial duties, but they are also responsible for guiding councillors in their roles, acting as chair in council meetings, acting as the primary council spokesperson and developing opportunities for community growth and improvements.
Lord mayors of capital cities have the added responsibility of contributing to the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors (CCCLM). This organisation aims to provide national leadership on the coordination of issues relating to Australian capital cities, particularly in how they relate to other levels of government.
There are slight differences in the responsibilities of lord mayors depending on the city. The Lord Mayor of Sydney is responsible for specific functions delegated by Council. The Lord Mayor of Melbourne leads regular reviews of the CEO, who is the only staff member appointed by Council and is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day management of Council operations.
In Hobart, the Lord Mayor appoints and monitors the performance of the general manager, assisting in its support of Council.
Who can be nominated for Lord Mayor?
In Australia, councils can nominate their mayor for the title by writing to the State Government, which can then pass on the
application to the monarchy for approval.
This was the process that Liverpool Council began in 2017, when it nominated its mayor for the title. This was shortly after Liverpool was reclassified as a large metropolitan city, reflecting its growing population.
As the fourth oldest settlement in Australia (after Sydney, Parramatta and Hobart, all of which hold lord mayor titles), Liverpool Council highlighted the historical importance of the city. Liverpool’s historical significance includes over 500 Indigenous sites containing artwork, archaeology, scarred trees and artefacts.
The area also includes some of the first examples of domestic colonial architecture from the 1800s and military barracks used for training in World War I and World War II.
Another consideration for Liverpool is the opening of the Western Sydney Airport, which is anticipated to bring even further growth and international attention to the region. A lord mayor title, proponents argue, would elevate the reputation of Liverpool.
In regards to granting the lord mayor title, the Office of Local Government has advised that, “Although there are no specific qualifications required for such bestowal, it appears that the local government area would need to have a very special significance in the history and geography of the state.”
Criticism of Lord Mayor applications
As lord mayor is a ceremonial title, whether a council is granted the honour or not has very little tangible effect on the community.
Because of this, applications for the title have been disparaged as ways to improve public perception without adding substantive value to councils. Liverpool Mayor, Nen Mannoun, criticised Liverpool Council’s application for the title in 2017, while a different mayor was in office.
In a Facebook post, Mr Mannoun wrote, “What do you think is important for the Mayor and Council to be discussing and fixing? Better train services, increased funding for CCTV, better parks, more jobs?
“Instead, they are wasting their time (and your money) discussing the importance of changing the title of the mayor to lord mayor.”
The outcome of Liverpool’s lord mayor application has not been announced.
Lord Mayors outside of capital cities
Other than the capital cities of each state and territory, Australia currently has three councils that elect lord mayors — Wollongong, Paramatta and Newcastle in New South Wales.
In 1948, Newcastle became the first non-capital city to receive the honour of a lord mayor title. It was recognised by King George VI for being the second oldest and largest city in New South Wales.
Wollongong Council first applied for the lord mayor title in 1951, with subsequent applications in 1956, 1959, 1964 and 1965.
Wollongong was finally granted the title by Queen Elizabeth II in 1970, following a tour of the city and a long-running community campaign led by Council.
Parramatta Council received lord mayor status in 1988, after making an application by letter to the State Government during its bicentennial year.
The title was approved in a message from Buckingham Palace, which read, “It is established practice in the UK that the mayor of an important city is raised to a Lord Mayor only to mark some very special national or local event.
“The City of Parramatta’s own bicentennial, in Australia’s own bicentennial year, seems to meet that criterion most aptly, so the Queen is happy to approve the Premier’s recommendation that the Mayor of Parramatta should be raised to the dignity of Lord Mayor.”