The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 when 6 British colonies, including Victoria, joined together.

The 1901 Australian Constitution established a federal system of government. This is when Victoria became a state. 

Australia has three levels of government:  

  • Commonwealth  
  • state  
  • local. 

The Australian Constitution defines the law-making powers of the Commonwealth and the states. Changes to the Constitution require a referendum or popular vote.

To succeed, a proposed change must be approved by:  

  • a majority of voters overall  
  • a majority of voters in the majority of states.  

Each state:  

  • has its own state Constitution  
  • can make laws on any subject that is related to the state.  

The Commonwealth can also make laws, but only in relation to the matters specified in the Australian Constitution.

Commonwealth government responsibilities include:

  • foreign affairs
  • social security
  • trade
  • immigration
  • currency
  • defense
  • income tax
  • Medicare
  • Centrelink assistance programs.

When there is an inconsistency between Commonwealth and state laws, the Commonwealth law prevails. 

In addition to the 6 states, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island have been granted the right of self-government under Commonwealth law. 

Local governments are established by state and territory governments to:  

  • maintain significant infrastructure  
  • provide a range of local services  
  • enforce various laws for their communities.  

The decision-making body of local government is usually called the city council or shire council. Council members are elected to represent the people who live within their geographic area.

Councils make by-laws for things like:

  • local roads 
  • parks and playgrounds  
  • rubbish collection  
  • library services  
  • sporting fields  
  • street signage  
  • domestic animal regulation.  

Councils collect rates from residents and businesses to help fund local infrastructure and services. They also receive grant money from the Commonwealth and state governments.

Find out more at Local government in Victoria and Know Your Council.