Government in the Commonwealth of Australia is exercised on three levels: federal, states and territories, and local government.
There are six states: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. (Historically, each is a successor to one of the previous Australian colonies.) Each state has its own constitution, with its own legislature (parliament), judiciary and executive. The state parliaments have plenary legislative power, except that some areas of legislative power are exclusive to the federal parliament, many others are exercised concurrently with it and, in case of conflict between federal and state legislation, the federal legislation prevails. A decision of a state judiciary is subject to appeal to a federal court.
There are also ten territories, whose existence and governmental structure (if any) depend on federal legislation. The territories are distinguished for federal administrative purposes between internal territories, i.e. those within the Australian mainland, and external territories, although the differences among all the territories relate to population rather than location.
Two of the three internal territories—the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which was established to be a neutral site of the federal capital, and the Northern Territory—function almost as states. Each has self-government, through its legislative assembly, but the assembly's legislation can be federally overridden. Each has its own judiciary, with appeal to a federal court. The third internal territory, the Jervis Bay Territory, is the product of Australia's complex relationship with its capital city; rather than having the same level of autonomy as the other internal territories, it has services provided by the ACT.
There are also seven external territories, not part of the Australian mainland or of any state. Three of them have a small permanent population, two have tiny and transient populations, and two are uninhabited. All are directly administered by the federal Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities (or the Department of the Environment and Energy in the case of the Australian Antarctic Territory). Norfolk Island, which is permanently populated, was partially self-governing until 2015.
The term "interstate" is used within Australia to refer to any cross-border events, transactions, or travel.
The term geographic Australia is used by the Australian government to describe the area covered by demographic statistics such as national population figures. This area comprises Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in addition to the six states and three mainland territories; Norfolk Island is the only territory with a permanent population that is not part of geographic Australia.
States and territories
At Federation in 1901, what is now the Northern Territory was within South Australia, what are now the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory were within New South Wales, and Coral Sea Islands was part of Queensland. Ashmore and Cartier Islands was accepted by Australia in 1934 and was annexed to the Northern Territory prior to adoption of the Statute of Westminster in 1942, deemed effective from 1939; it has thus become part of Australia.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands voted for integration in 1984. Together with Christmas Island, Commonwealth laws apply automatically to the territory unless expressly stated otherwise and residents of both external territories are associated with Northern Territory for federal elections. They are, thus, constitutionally part of Australia.
Uninhabited Heard and McDonald Island is treated as constitutionally part of Australia by the central government.
The constitutional status of the Australian Antarctic Territory is unclear, with successive governments treating it either as a separate territory (as in the United Kingdom and Norway) or an integral part of the country (as in New Zealand and France). As of 2018, the present government appears to take the view that it is not constitutionally part of Australia.
Norfolk Island's status is controversial, with the present (as of 2018) government taking measures to integrate the territory into Australia proper (including representation in parliament and compulsory voting). The Norfolk Islanders have not formally consented to this change in constitutional status and assert that they are not Australian.
Three territories established by the federal government under section 122 of the Constitution of Australia no longer exist:
- Central Australia (1926–1931), consisting of the area of the current Northern Territory south of the 20th parallel south
- North Australia (1926–1931), consisting of the area of the current Northern Territory north of the 20th parallel south
- Territory of Papua (1905–1975)
Additionally, two other areas were administered by Australia as de facto external territories.
- Territory of Nauru (1920–1968)
- Territory of New Guinea (1920–1975)
Both New Guinea and Nauru were originally German territories, but were occupied by Australian forces during World War I and subsequently made League of Nations mandates. They later became United Nations trust territories. The Papua and New Guinea Act 1949 placed the Territory of New Guinea in an "administrative union" with the Territory of Papua. The Territory of Papua and New Guinea was eventually given independence as Papua New Guinea in 1975. Nauru was granted independence in 1968.
Background and overview
The states originated as separate British colonies prior to Federation in 1901. The Colony of New South Wales was founded in 1788 and originally comprised much of the Australian mainland, as well as Lord Howe Island, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, and Van Diemen's Land, in addition to the area currently referred to as the state of New South Wales. During the 19th century, large areas were successively separated to form the Colony of Tasmania (initially established as a separate colony named Van Diemen's Land in 1825), the Colony of Western Australia (initially established as the smaller Swan River Colony in 1829), the Province of South Australia (1836), the Colony of New Zealand (1840), the Victoria Colony (1851) and the Colony of Queensland (1859). Upon Federation, the six colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania became the founding states of the new Commonwealth of Australia.
Legislative powers of the states are protected by the Australian constitution, section 107, and under the principle of federalism, Commonwealth legislation only applies to the states where permitted by the constitution. The territories, by contrast, are from a constitutional perspective directly subject to the Commonwealth Government; laws for territories are determined by the Australian Parliament.
Most of the territories are directly administered by the Commonwealth Government, while two (the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) have some degree of self-government although less than that of the states. In the self-governing territories, the Australian Parliament retains the full power to legislate, and can override laws made by the territorial institutions, which it has done on rare occasions. For the purposes of Australian (and joint Australia-New Zealand) intergovernmental bodies, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are treated as if they were states.
Each state has a governor, appointed by the Queen, which by convention she does on the advice of the state Premier. The Administrator of the Northern Territory, by contrast, is appointed by the Governor-General. The Australian Capital Territory has neither a Governor nor an Administrator, but the Governor-General exercises some powers that in other jurisdictions are exercised by the Governor of a state or Administrator of a territory, such as the power to dissolve the Legislative Assembly.
Jervis Bay Territory is the only non-self-governing internal territory. Until 1989, it was administered as if it were a part of the ACT, although it has always been a separate territory. Under the terms of the Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915, the laws of the ACT apply to the Jervis Bay Territory insofar as they are applicable and providing they are not inconsistent with an Ordinance. Although residents of the Jervis Bay Territory are generally subject to laws made by the ACT Legislative Assembly, they are not represented in the Assembly. They are represented in the Parliament of Australia as part of the Electoral Division of Fraser in the ACT and by the ACT's two Senators. In other respects, the territory is administered directly by the Federal Government through the Territories portfolio.
The external territory of Norfolk Island possessed a degree of self-government from 1979 until 2015.
Each state has a bicameral parliament except Queensland, which abolished its upper house in 1922. The lower house is called the Legislative Assembly, except in South Australia and Tasmania, where it is called the House of Assembly. Tasmania is the only state to use proportional representation for elections to its lower house; all others elect members from single member constituencies, using preferential voting. The upper house is called the Legislative Council and is generally elected from multi-member constituencies using proportional representation. The three self-governing territories, the ACT, the Northern Territory, and Norfolk Island, each have unicameral Legislative Assemblies.
The head of government of each state is called the premier, appointed by the state's Governor. In normal circumstances, the Governor will appoint as premier whoever leads the party or coalition which exercises control of the lower house (in the case of Queensland, the only house) of the state Parliament. However, in times of constitutional crisis, the Governor can appoint someone else as Premier. The head of government of the self-governing internal territories is called the chief minister. The Northern Territory's chief minister, in normal circumstances whoever controls the Legislative Assembly, is appointed by the administrator.
The term "interstate" is used within Australia to refer to a number of events, transactions, registrations, travel, etc. which occurs across borders or outside of the particular state or territory of the user of the term. Examples of use include motor vehicle registration, travel, applications to educational institutions out of one's home state.
- 1788 – British Empire establishes Colony of New South Wales across central and eastern mainland Australia, the island of Tasmania, both islands of New Zealand and Norfolk Island.
- 1803 – The Coral Sea Islands are claimed by New South Wales
- 1825 – The island of Tasmania becomes the independent colony of Van Diemen's Land. New South Wales extends its borders further west in mainland Australia.
- 1829 – British Empire establishes Swan River Colony in western mainland Australia
- 1832 – Swan River Colony is renamed the colony of Western Australia
- 1836 - The Colony of South Australia is established
- 1841 – The islands of New Zealand become the independent colony of New Zealand. Much of eastern Antarctica is annexed by Britain as Victoria Land.
- 1844 – New South Wales transfers Norfolk Island to Van Diemen's Land
- 1846 – Northern central and eastern Australia briefly become the independent Colony of North Australia, then are returned to New South Wales.
- 1851 – Southeastern mainland Australia becomes the independent colony of Victoria
- 1856 – Van Diemen's Land is renamed the colony of Tasmania. Norfolk Island becomes the independent colony of Norfolk Island, however it is to be administered by the same Governor as New South Wales.
- 1857 – Much of southern central mainland Australia becomes the independent colony of South Australia. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are annexed by Britain.
- 1859 – Northeastern mainland Australia and Coral Sea Islands become the independent colony of Queensland
- 1860 – A pocket of New South Wales territory remaining in southern central mainland Australia is transferred to South Australia
- 1862 – Some of New South Wales' northern central mainland Australian territory is transferred to Queensland
- 1863 – New South Wales' remaining northern central mainland Australian territory is transferred to South Australia
- 1878 – Britain annexes Ashmore Island
- 1883 – Queensland annexes southeastern New Guinea
- 1884 – Southeastern New Guinea becomes the independent Territory of Papua
- 1886 – The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are to be administered by the same Governor as the Straits Settlements
- 1888 – Christmas Island is annexed by Britain and incorporated into the Straits Settlements
- 1897 – Norfolk Island is officially reintegrated into New South Wales
- 1901 – New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia federate into the Commonwealth of Australia. Queensland transfers the Coral Sea Islands to the federal government, creating a federal external territory.
- 1902 – Britain transfers Papua to Australia as an external territory
- 1903 – The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are incorporated into the Straits Settlements
- 1909 – Britain annexes Cartier Island
- 1910 – Britain claims Heard Island and the McDonald Islands
- 1911 – The state of South Australia transfers control of northern central mainland Australia to the federal government, creating the Northern Territory. A small pocket of New South Wales around the city of Canberra is transferred to the federal government (who are seated within it), creating the Federal Capital Territory.
- 1913 – New South Wales transfers Norfolk Island to the federal government, making it a federal external territory
- 1915 – A small pocket of New South Wales around Jervis Bay is transferred to the federal government and incorporated into the Federal Capital Territory
- 1920 – Following the defeat of the German Empire in World War I, the League of Nations establishes an Australian mandate in northeastern New Guinea, it becomes the external Territory of New Guinea
- 1923 – Another conquered German territory, the island of Nauru, is established as an Australian mandate and external territory by the League of Nations, this time as a co-mandate with Britain and New Zealand
- 1927 – The Northern Territory is split into two territories – North Australia and Central Australia
- 1930 – Remaining territory in eastern Antarctica is annexed by Britain as Enderby Land
- 1931 – North Australia and Central Australia are reincorporated as the Northern Territory. Britain recognises Australia as possessors of the uninhabited Ashmore and Cartier Islands, making them an external federal territory.
- 1933 – Britain transfers Victoria Land and Enderby Land to Australia, creating the Australian Antarctic Territory, with ongoing limited international recognition
- 1938 – The Federal Capital Territory is renamed the Australian Capital Territory
- 1942 – The Japanese Empire conquers Nauru from Australia, Britain and New Zealand as part of World War II. Japan also conquers much of the Straits Settlements, including Christmas Island. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are not conquered and are transferred to the Colony of Ceylon.
- 1946 – The United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations, renews its mandate of New Guinea to Australia
- 1947 – Following the defeat of Japan in World War II, the United Nations returns Nauru to Australia, Britain and New Zealand as a joint mandate. Christmas Island returns to Britain and is incorporated into the Colony of Singapore. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are also transferred to Singapore.
- 1949 – Papua and New Guinea are incorporated into the singular Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Britain transfers Heard Island and the McDonald Islands to Australia, creating a federal external territory.
- 1955 – Britain transfers the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to Australia, they become an external territory
- 1958 – Britain transfers Christmas Island to Australia, it becomes an external territory
- 1966 – The Republic of Nauru is established, ending Australian/British/New Zealander control of the island
- 1975 – Papua and New Guinea becomes the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, ending British/Australian control
- 1978 – Northern Territory gains self-government with certain Commonwealth control.
- 1989 – Jervis Bay becomes independent of the ACT, becoming the Jervis Bay Territory
- 1993 – Australian Capital Territory gains self-government with certain Commonwealth control.
- 2015 – Norfolk Island loses self-government with full Commonwealth control.
Governors and administrators of states and territories
Premiers and chief ministers of states and territories
State and territorial parliaments
- Parliament of New South Wales
- Parliament of Queensland
- Parliament of South Australia
- Parliament of Tasmania
- Parliament of Victoria
- Parliament of Western Australia
- Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
- Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly
State and territory supreme courts
- Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory
- Supreme Court of New South Wales
- Supreme Court of the Northern Territory
- Supreme Court of Queensland
- Supreme Court of South Australia
- Supreme Court of Tasmania
- Supreme Court of Victoria
- Supreme Court of Western Australia
- Supreme Court of Norfolk Island
State and territory police forces
- Australian Capital Territory Police (performed by Australian Federal Police)
- New South Wales Police
- Northern Territory Police
- Queensland Police
- South Australia Police
- Tasmania Police
- Victoria Police
- Western Australia Police
State and territory borders
- Australian Capital Territory border
- New South Wales borders
- Northern Territory borders
- Queensland borders
- South Australian borders
- Tasmanian borders
- Victorian borders
- Western Australia border
State and territory codes
- Australian regional rivalries
- ISO 3166-2:AU, the ISO codes for the states and territories of Australia.
- List of Australian demonyms
- List of Australian states by Human Development Index
- List of proposed states of Australia