Victoria became an independent British colony in 1851 and a State in 1901. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 when six British colonies joined together. The 1901 Australian Constitution established a federal system of government and the Constitution defines the boundaries of law-making powers between the Commonwealth and the States. Three Territories – the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island – have powers defined in the Commonwealth law which grants them the right of self-government.

Each State has its own State Constitution and can make laws on any subject that is related to the State. The Commonwealth can also make laws, but only in relation to the subjects specified in the Commonwealth Constitution. Where there is conflict between Commonwealth and State laws, the Commonwealth law prevails.

Changes to the Australian Constitution require a referendum, or popular vote, in which the proposal is approved by a majority of voters overall, and a majority of voters in the majority of States. It is the principal function of the High Court of Australia to interpret the Constitution and to decide disputes about its meaning.

Local governments are established by State and Territory governments to maintain significant infrastructure, provide a range of services and enforce various laws for their communities. These smaller legislative bodies make by-laws which relate to matters of local interest such as local roads, parks and playgrounds, rubbish collection, library services, sporting fields, street signage and domestic animal regulation.

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