Supporting information

Use these brief notes to prepare for the Explore the three levels of government classroom activity.

Australia has 3 levels of law-making—often referred to as the 3 levels of government—that work together to provide Australians with the services they need.

The 3 levels are:

  • federal (or national) Parliament, in Canberra
  • state/territory parliaments, in each state/territory capital city
  • local councils (also called shires or municipalities), across the nation.

Australia has a federal Parliament, 6 state and 2 territory parliaments, and over 500 local councils.

Representatives are elected to federal and state/territory parliaments and local councils, so that all Australians have someone to represent them at each level of government. Parliaments and councils make laws; governments put these laws into action.

Some of the responsibilities of federal, state/territory and local governments overlap, but generally each level of government provides different services to Australians:

  • The federal government has broad national powers. Among other things, it administers—puts into action laws in relation to defence, immigration, foreign affairs, trade, postal services and taxation
  • State/territory governments have the power to look after laws not covered by the federal government; for instance, hospitals, schools, police and housing services.
  • The powers of local councils are defined by Acts of Parliament passed by state parliaments and include responsibility for building regulations, rubbish collection, local roads and pet control.

All levels of government raise money, through collecting taxes, to pay for services provided to Australians. State/territory and local governments also receive some money from the federal government, and states fund local councils.

Local councils in the Northern Territory (NT) are established by the NT Legislative Assembly under a local government law. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) does not have local councils, as the ACT Legislative Assembly combines both state and local government functions.