Australia - States and Territories

States and Territories

Australia has six states — New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC), and Western Australia (WA) — and two major mainland territories — the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT). In most respects these two territories function as states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation overrides state legislation only in areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including those over schools, state police, the state judiciary, roads, public transport, and local government, since these do not fall under the provisions listed in Section 51.

Each state and major mainland territory has its own parliament—unicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT, and Queensland, and bicameral in the other states. The states are sovereign entities, although subject to certain powers of the Commonwealth as defined by the Constitution. The lower houses are known as the Legislative Assembly (the House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania); the upper houses are known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier, and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a Governor; and in the Northern Territory, the Administrator. In the Commonwealth, the Queen's representative is the Governor-General.

The federal parliament directly administers the following territories:

  • Ashmore and Cartier Islands
  • Australian Antarctic Territory
  • Christmas Island
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands
  • Coral Sea Islands
  • Heard Island and McDonald Islands
  • Jervis Bay Territory, a naval base and sea port for the national capital in land that was formerly part of New South Wales

Norfolk Island is also technically an external territory; however, under the Norfolk Island Act 1979 it has been granted more autonomy and is governed locally by its own legislative assembly. The Queen is represented by an Administrator, currently Owen Walsh.

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