Three levels of government: governing Australia

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 law-making—often referred to as the 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.

Australia has 1 federal Parliament, 6 state and 2 territory parliaments, and over 500 local councils.

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.

Some of the responsibilities of federal, state and 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 national issues such as defence, immigration, foreign affairs, trade, postal services and taxation.
  • State and territory governments have the power to look after areas 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 rubbish collection, local roads and pet control.

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

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: for example, trade, defence, immigration and the environment.

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: for example, schools, housing, hospitals, roads, railways, police and ambulance services.

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: for example, town planning, rubbish collection, water and sewerage, local roads and pet control.

Territories

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.

The Australian Constitution

Section 51 of the Australian Constitution details the powers of the federal Parliament to make laws in relation to national matters. These laws are administered—put into action—by the Australian Government. Issues not listed in section 51 are the responsibility of state governments. Under section 109 of the Constitution, if a state Parliament and the federal Parliament pass conflicting laws on the same subject, then the federal law overrides the state law. Section 122 of the Constitution allows the federal Parliament to override a territory law at any time.

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).