Do you mean that you want to change the settings on the rotate tool? You can switch between local, global, etc for the various transform tools if you go to the tool settings box. Or you can use the marking menus.
It's not just for rigging, obviously. You use it for modeling and animating just as often, but I don't know what else you mean by "turn off the local axis."
This is what I'm talking about - http://www.setdrivenkey.com/2008/06/tip-of...hink-local.html