Government in Australia faqs
- What is the difference between a state and a territory?
- What kinds of laws can be made by each level of government (the Australian, state, territory and local governments)?
- Which federal electorate do I live in? Who is my federal member of parliament?
- Which state/territory electorate do I live in? Who is my local member of state/territory parliament?
What is the difference between a state and a territory?
Australia's six states represent the six British colonies that joined together to create the Commonwealth of Australia. In forming the Commonwealth, the states approved a Constitution that gave the then new Commonwealth government the right to pass laws on certain subjects, and allowed the states to retain all other law-making rights. States therefore have a constitutional right to convene a state parliament and pass certain laws.
Any land within Australia's national border that is not claimed by one of the states is called a territory. Territories do not have the right to convene their own government or pass laws as the states do. Under the Constitution, the Australian Government makes the laws for the territories.
The confusion between state and territory arises because the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are often treated like states. These two territories, along with Norfolk Island, are self-governing territories. In these three cases, the then Commonwealth passed a law allowing each territory to convene a parliament and make their own laws in a similar manner to the states. Unlike the states, whose powers are defined through the Constitution, the powers of these territories are defined in Australian Government law which grants them the right of self-government. This also means that the Australian Government can alter or revoke these powers at will.
Under Section 121 of the Australian Constitution, territories can become states with the approval of the Parliament of Australia.
What kinds of laws can be made by each level of government (the Australian, state, territory and local governments)?
The Australian Government generally makes laws on matters which affect the country as a whole, and on matters where it would be unhelpful for the law to be different in each state. Section 51 of the Australian Constitution defines forty specific areas over which the Commonwealth has the power to make laws. Examples of these are: currency, postal and telephone services, relations with other countries, immigration, quarantine, and the operation of a defence force. The Australian Government can also make laws about Australia's territories.
State governments can make laws on any issue that the Australian Government can not. State laws usually cover issues like education, health, the environment, and the operation of emergency services (police, fire, ambulance).
It is possible in some cases for the Australian Government and the states to make laws on the same issue. Where a Commonwealth law and a state law do not agree with one another, the Commonwealth law is followed.
Not all territories have their own government, and even if they do, the powers of a territory government are not the same as those of a state government. Territory governments can only be established with the agreement of the Australian Government. The Commonwealth law that establishes a territory government will also specify the powers of that government. It can be given the right to make the same laws that a state can, or they may only be allowed to make laws on a small number of issues. Territories without their own government can be instructed by the Australian Government to follow the laws of a nearby state, or the Australian Government can make its own laws for the territory.
Local governments are established by state and territory governments to look after matters relevant to local communities. These include garbage collections, public parks and sporting grounds, libraries, and local planning matters.
Which federal electorate do I live in? Who is my federal member of parliament?
You can find out which electorate you live in, and who your local federal member is, by using the federal electorate search facilities provided on the Australian Electoral Commission.
You can search for your local federal electorate by entering either your suburb name or postcode. Select the electorate name to display the details of your local Member of Parliament and party details.
Once you know the name of your federal Member of Parliament, you can find contact details of Members.
In some cases a locality/suburb or postcode may be in more than one federal electorate or you may simply want to contact the AEC direct. If this is the case, you can telephone 132326 (for the cost of a local call within Australia) or dial +61262714411 from outside Australia. You can also send an enquiry via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Which state/territory electorate do I live in? Who is my local member of state/territory parliament?
Use the links shown below for the Electoral Commission of your state or territory to find out your electoral district:
- Australian Capital Territory Electoral Commission
- New South Wales State Electoral Commission
- Northern Territory Electoral Commission
- Electoral Commission Queensland
- State Electoral Office South Australia
- Tasmanian Electoral Commission
- Victorian Electoral Commission
- Western Australian Electoral Commission
Once you know the name of your electoral district, you can find the name and contact details of your state or territory member on the state or territory parliament sites shown below.