Australia (officially known as the Commonwealth of Australia) is a federation of six states, together with ten federal territories. The Australian mainland consists of five of the six federated states and three of the federal territories (the “internal” territories). The state of Tasmania is an island about 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of the mainland. The remaining seven territories are classified for some purposes as “external” territories. Aside from the Australian Antarctic Territory, which is Australia’s claim to part of Antarctica, Australia is the world’s sixth-largest country by total area.
All states and the two largest internal territories are partially self-governing, as well as being represented in the federal parliament; the other territories are administered by the federal government. Since 2015, federal control has also been extended to the formerly self-governing territory of Norfolk Island. The third internal territory is the Jervis Bay Territory (JBT) which is located on the coast of New South Wales south of Sydney and east of Canberra. Three of the external territories are inhabited; the others are uninhabited, apart from temporary-resident scientists.
The term geographic Australia is used by the Australian Government to describe the area covered by demographic statistics such as national population figures. This area comprises Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in addition to the six states and three mainland territories; Norfolk Island is the only territory with a permanent population that is not part of geographic Australia.
(or largest settlement)
|New South Wales||NSW||AU-NSW||NSW||State||Sydney||7,704,300||800,642|
|Western Australia||WA||AU-WA||WA||State||Perth[n 2]||2,613,700||2,529,875|
|Australian Capital Territory||ACT||AU-ACT||ACT||Territory||Canberra||397,397||2,358|
|[n 3]||Jervis Bay Territory||JBT||JBT||Territory||(Jervis Bay Village)||391||70|
|[n 3]||Coral Sea Islands||External||(Willis Island)||4[n 4]||10|
|Christmas Island||CX||External[n 5]||Flying Fish Cove||2,072||135|
|Cocos (Keeling) Islands||CC||External[n 5]||West Island||596||14|
|[n 3]||Ashmore and Cartier Islands||External||(Offshore anchorage)||0||199|
|[n 3]||Heard Island and McDonald Islands||HIMI||HM||External||(Atlas Cove)||0||372|
|[n 3]||Australian Antarctic Territory||AAT||AQ[n 6]||External||Davis Station||1,000[n 7]||5,896,500|
All states, (internal) territories and the external territory of Coral Sea Islands were part of Australia at federation and are constitutionally part of the Commonwealth. Northern Territory was part of South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay Territory were part of New South Wales, and Coral Sea Islands was part of Queensland. Ashmore and Cartier Islands was accepted by Australia in 1934 and annexed to Northern Territory prior to the adoption of the Statute of Westminster in 1942 and, as such, is deemed to form part of Australia proper.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands voted for integration in 1984. Together with Christmas Island, Commonwealth laws apply automatically to the territory unless expressly stated otherwise. and residents of both external territories are associated with Northern Territory for federal elections. They are, thus, constitutionally part of Australia.
Uninhabited Heard and McDonald Island is treated as constitutionally part of Australia by the central government.
The constitutional status of the Australian Antarctic Territory is unclear, with successive governments treating it either as a separate territory (as in the United Kingdom and Norway) or an integral part of the state (as in New Zealand and France). As of 2018, the present government appears to take the view that it is not constitutionally part of Australia.
Norfolk Island’s status is controversial, with the present (as of 2018) government taking measures to integrate the territory into Australia proper (including representation in parliament and compulsory voting). The Norfolk Islanders have not formally consented to this change in constitutional status and assert that they are not Australian.
The states originated as separate British colonies prior to Federation in 1901. The Colony of New South Wales was founded in 1788 and originally comprised much of the Australian mainland, as well as Lord Howe Island, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, and Van Diemen’s Land, in addition to the area currently referred to as the state of New South Wales. During the 19th century, large areas were successively separated to form the Colony of Tasmania (initially established as a separate colony named Van Diemen’s Land in 1825), the Colony of Western Australia (initially established as the smaller Swan River Colony in 1829), the Province of South Australia(1836), the Colony of New Zealand (1840), the Victoria Colony (1851) and the Colony of Queensland (1859). Upon Federation, the six colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania became the founding states of the new Commonwealth of Australia.
Legislative powers of the states are protected by the Australian constitution, section 107, and under the principle of federalismCommonwealth legislation only applies to the states where permitted by the constitution. The territories, by contrast, are from a constitutional perspective directly subject to the Commonwealth Government; laws for territories are determined by the Australian Parliament.
Most of the territories are directly administered by the Commonwealth Government, while two (the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory) have some degree of self-government although less than that of the states. In the self-governing territories, the Australian Parliament retains the full power to legislate, and can override laws made by the territorial institutions, which it has done on rare occasions. For the purposes of Australian (and joint Australia-New Zealand) intergovernmental bodies, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory are treated as if they were states.
Each state has a Governor, appointed by the Queen, which by convention she does on the advice of the state Premier. The Administrator of the Northern Territory, by contrast, is appointed by the Governor-General. The Australian Capital Territory has neither a Governor nor an Administrator, but the Governor-General exercises some powers that in other jurisdictions are exercised by the Governor of a state or Administrator of a territory, such as the power to dissolve the Legislative Assembly.
Jervis Bay Territory is the only non-self-governing internal territory. Until 1989, it was administered as if it were a part of the ACT, although it has always been a separate territory. Under the terms of the Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915, the laws of the ACT apply to the Jervis Bay Territory insofar as they are applicable and providing they are not inconsistent with an Ordinance. Although residents of the Jervis Bay Territory are generally subject to laws made by the ACT Legislative Assembly, they are not represented in the Assembly. They are represented in the Parliament of Australia as part of the Electoral Division of Fraser in the ACT and by the ACT’s two Senators. In other respects, the territory is administered directly by the Federal Government through the Territories portfolio.
The external territory of Norfolk Island possessed a degree of self-government from 1979 until 2015.
Each state has a bicameral parliament except Queensland, which abolished its upper house in 1922. The lower house is called the Legislative Assembly, except in South Australia and Tasmania, where it is called the House of Assembly. Tasmania is the only state to use proportional representation for elections to its lower house; all others elect members from single member constituencies, using preferential voting. The upper house is called the Legislative Council and is generally elected from multi-member constituencies using proportional representation. The three self-governing territories, the ACT, the Northern Territory, and Norfolk Island, each have unicameral Legislative Assemblies.
The head of government of each state is called the Premier, appointed by the state’s Governor. In normal circumstances, the Governor will appoint as Premier whoever leads the party or coalition which exercises control of the lower house (in the case of Queensland, the only house) of the state Parliament. However, in times of constitutional crisis, the Governor can appoint someone else as Premier. The head of government of the self-governing internal territories is called the Chief Minister. The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister, in normal circumstances whoever controls the Legislative Assembly, is appointed by the Administrator.
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