One in five Australians have a disability, which means it’s crucial that local councils understand their needs so they can provide the services that best support them.

However, according to a recent review by Dr Belinda Williams from the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, the problem is that many local councils in Australia are missing the mark when it comes to reporting on their actions in the disability space. And without accountability, it makes things very difficult when problems arise, or when treatments and technologies require crucial updates.

What we’re finding is that the reporting is very limited. And in some cases, it’s not being reported at all.

In their recent analysis of annual reports being produced by local councils in two states of Australia, Dr Williams and her colleagues looked specifically at the reporting of disability criteria mandated by legislation.

“Whether it’s things like they’ve put a new disabled toilet in, provided employment opportunities in the community, or enabled different access for disability, they’ve got key criteria that they need to report on.

“But it’s not happening,” she said. “We were really surprised by these initial findings.”

When it comes to legislated state reporting, disability is defined broadly to include intellectual, psychiatric, cognitive, neurological, sensory, or physical disability issues.

As much as 30 to 40 per cent of people in a local council area of Australia can be affected by a form of disability, and Dr Williams found that they are not being adequately recognised or accommodated.

“There was one particular local council, which responded to an outcome with, ‘The shire is fortunate in having very few residents with disabilities,’” she said.

“When we read that, we just sat there and thought, ‘That’s unbelievable.’”

The next step for Dr Williams’ research is to find out if local councils in Australia are in fact working to ensure disabled outcomes, but perhaps just not reporting on their efforts.

“Now that we know they are not reporting, or reporting at very low levels, I would like to interview these councils to find out if it’s because they’re doing work around disability, but they choose not to report on it; or is it because they have too many other requirements?” she said. “Are they too busy, or are they just not interested?”

It’s hoped that through this ongoing investigation, Dr Williams and her team will have a chance to recommend policy changes around disability action reporting, so that local councils are kept accountable for what they’re doing to support their constituents.

Local councils are accountable to their constituents, and ratepayers need to know that the money being expended within local council is being used wisely.

“Legislators need to be made aware that this reporting is not happening, and therefore we need to shine a light on this area to ensure a change occurs.”

Find out about studying Business and Economics at the University of Tasmania here.

About Dr Belinda Williams

Dr Williams' research aligns to two of the University's research themes: Creativity, Culture and Society and Environment, Resources and Sustainability. Her research interests include sustainability reporting, corporate social responsibility, diversity and corporate governance.

View Dr Belinda Williams's full researcher profile