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Three levels of law-making

Governing Australia

There are three levels of law-making in Australia – often referred to as the three levels of government – that work together to provide Australians with the services they need. Representatives are elected to federal and state/territory parliaments and local councils in separate elections.

Different responsibilities

Each level of government generally provides different services to Australians.

Among other things, the federal government administers (puts into action) laws about defence, immigration, trade, foreign affairs, industrial relations, transport, social security and family support, postal services, telecommunications and taxation.

State and territory governments make decisions about matters that are not covered by the federal government; for example, hospitals, schools, public transport, police and housing services.

Local councils were set up by state governments to look after the needs of a city or local community. Local government responsibilities include town planning, pet control, rubbish collection and recycling, and recreation facilities such as parks and swimming pools.

Sometimes these responsibilities overlap. For example, local roads are provided through the cooperation of federal, state/territory and local governments. Each one contributes money towards building and maintaining roads.

Because of its small geographical size the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) does not have local councils. The ACT government takes care of territory and local government matters.

Who is responsible for what?

The federal government raises money to run the country by collecting taxes on incomes (wages), goods and services and company profits

and spends it on national matters, for example: trade, defence, immigration and the environment.

State/territory governments

also raise money from taxes but receive more than half their money from the federal government

and spend it on state/territory matters, for example: schools, housing and hospitals, roads and railways, police and ambulance services.

Local councils

collect taxes (rates) from all local property owners and receive grants from federal and state/territory governments

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

The federal government raises money to run the country by collecting taxes on incomes (wages), goods and services and company profits and spends it on national matters, for example: trade, defence, immigration and the environment.

State/territory governments also raise money from taxes but receive more than half their money from the federal government and spend it on state/territory matters, for example: schools, housing and hospitals, roads and railways, police and ambulance services.

Local councils collect taxes (rates) from all local property owners and receive grants from federal and state/territory governments and spend this on local matters, for example: town planning, rubbish collection, water and sewerage, local roads and pet control.

Which law?

Under section 109 of the Constitution, if a state Parliament and the federal Parliament pass conflicting laws on the same matter, 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.

The federal Parliament has only used its power under section 122 on a few occasions and usually only when the territory law is controversial. For example, in 1997 the federal Parliament passed a law to overturn the Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act which had made euthanasia legal in the territory.