The roles and responsibilities of the three levels of government

This fact sheet introduces the three levels of government in Australia: the federal—Australian—Parliament, state and territory parliaments, and local councils. It includes the roles and responsibilities of each level.

Australia has three levels of government that work together to provide us with the services we need.

The three levels are:

  • federal—Australian—Parliament, in Canberra
  • state and territory parliaments, in each state and territory capital city
  • local councils—also called shires or municipalities—across Australia.

How the federal and state parliaments work together is sometimes referred to as the division of powers.

There are 6 state and 2 territory parliaments. They are:

There are over 500 local councils around Australia.

Responsibility

Representatives are elected to federal Parliament, state and 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.

Each level of government provides different services to Australians. Sometimes these services overlap.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

STATE AND TERRITORY GOVERNMENTS

LOCAL COUNCILS

Responsible for issues that affect all Australians (national issues)

Responsible for issues that affect people in that state or territory

Responsible for issues that affect local communities

Post, telephones and the internet

Money

Immigration

Defence

Public transport

Schools

Hospitals

Public housing

Rubbish collection and recycling

Parks, sports fields and swimming pools

Pet control

Parking

All levels of government raise money, through collecting taxes, to pay for services provided to Australians. Local councils also receive funding from the federal government and state governments.

FEDERAL

STATE AND TERRITORY

LOCAL

The federal government raises money to run the country by collecting taxes on incomes, goods and services, and company profits, and spends it on national matters.

State and territory governments also raise money from taxes but receive more than half their money from the federal government and spend it on state and territory matters.

Local councils collect taxes—rates—from all local property owners and receive grants from federal, state and territory governments, and spend this on local matters.

The Australian Constitution

Section 51 of the Australian Constitution contains a long list of areas in which the federal Parliament can make laws. For some of these—defence, foreign affairs, immigration etc—the federal Parliament has the exclusive—sole—power to make laws. Other areas—education, health, water management etc—are shared with the states. These are called concurrent powers. Section 109 of the Constitution states that if a state parliament and the federal Parliament pass conflicting laws on the same subject, then the federal law overrides the state law.

Territories

Section 122 of the Constitution allows the federal Parliament to override a territory law at any time. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) does not have local councils. The ACT Legislative Assembly is responsible for both state and local government responsibilities.

Three levels of government in Australia.

This diagram illustrates the three levels of government and the law-making bodies located around Australia.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This diagram illustrates the three levels of government—the law-making bodies in Australia with three maps of Australia: Local councils (located around Australia in each local council division); State/territory parliaments (located in the capital cities of each of the 6 states and 2 territories); and federal Parliament (located in Canberra, the nation's capital).