State & Commonwealth Relationship

Australia’s formal name is the Commonwealth of Australia. The form of government used in Australia is a constitutional monarchy – ‘constitutional’ because the powers and procedures of the Australian Government are defined by a written constitution, and ‘monarchy’ because Australia’s head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.

The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 when six independent British colonies agreed to join together and become states of a new nation. The rules of government for this new nation were enshrined in the Australian Constitution, which defined how the Australian Government was to operate and what issues it could pass laws on. The Constitution created a ‘federal’ system of government. Under a federal system, powers are divided between a central government and individual states. In Australia, power was divided between the Australian Government and the six state governments.

The Australian Government passes laws which affect the whole country. Section 51 of the Constitution defines a number of issues on which the Australian Government can make laws.

In accordance with the Australian Constitution, the Australian Government is responsible for all matters concerning Australia as a nation, such as defence, foreign affairs, telecommunications and customs.

Each state has its own state Constitution, which divides the state’s government into the same divisions of legislature, executive, and judiciary as the Australian Government.

The six state parliaments are permitted to pass laws related to any matter that is not controlled by the Commonwealth under Section 51 of the Australian Constitution.

The State Government is responsible for matters including police, education, water supply, electricity supply, health, agriculture, planning and housing.

The monarch’s powers over state matters are exercised by a Governor in each state. The head of each state government is known as the Premier.