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States and territories of Australia facts for kids

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States and territories of Australia
Australia states and territories labelled.svg
Location Australia
Number Six states, three internal territories, and seven external territories
Populations Smallest state:
Largest state:
Smallest territories:
Largest territory:
Areas Smallest state:
Largest state:
Smallest territory:
Largest territories:
Subdivisions Local Government Areas and Unincorporated Areas

The states and territories are federated administrative divisions in Australia, ruled by regional governments that constitute the second level of governance between the federal government and local governments. States are self-governing polities with incomplete sovereignty (having ceded some sovereign rights to federation) and have their own constitutions, legislatures, departments, and certain civil authorities (e.g. judiciary and law enforcement) that administer and deliver most public policies and programmes. Territories can be autonomous and administer local policies and programmes much like the states in practice, but are still constitutionally and financially subordinate to the federal government and thus have no true sovereignty.

The Federation of Australia constitutionally consists of six federated states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia) and ten federal territories, out of which three are internal territories (the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Jervis Bay Territory) contiguous to the Australian mainland; and the other seven are external territories (Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Norfolk Island, and the Australian Antarctic Territory), which are offshore dependent territories. Every state and internal territory is self-governing with its own independent executive government, legislative branch, and judicial system, while the rest only have local government status overseen by federal departments.

State and territory governments have executive authority to legislate on matters concerning their citizens, subject to the limits of the federal constitution (notably section 51 and section 109). Each state and internal territory has its own legislature, although the federal government can override any territorial legislation. The federal High Court of Australia acts as a final court of appeal for all matters and has the authority to override any state judiciary. While all states and internal territories have their own judicial system, which is subject to appeal to the High Court, most external territories are subject to the judiciary and legislature of either a state or internal territory. Excluding the Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory (which are governed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment), the external territories are governed by the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

Each state of Australia is a successor to historical British colonies, and each has its own state or territorial constitution. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Northern Territory for the most part operate indistinguishably from the states, even though they do not have constitutional status as states and territorial legislations can be overridden.

Geographic Australia

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 native population that is not part of geographic Australia.

External territories, states and territories

Reference map for states and territories of Australia
Australia states and territories labeled.svg
States and territories of Australia
Flag State/territory name Abbrev ISO Postal Type Capital
(or largest settlement)
Population Area (km²)
Ashmore and Cartier Islands External (Offshore anchorage) &&&&&&&&&&&&&&00.&&&&&00 199
Australian Antarctic Territory AAT AQ External Davis Station 0Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ","..Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ",".1,000 5,896,500
Australian Capital Territory ACT AU-ACT ACT Territory Canberra &&&&&&&&&0395200.&&&&&0395,200 2,358
Christmas Island CX External Flying Fish Cove 0Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ","..Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ",".2,072 135
Cocos (Keeling) Islands CC External West Island &&&&&&&&&&&&0596.&&&&&0596 14
Coral Sea Islands External (Willis Island) &&&&&&&&&&&&&&04.&&&&&04 10
Heard Island and McDonald Islands HIMI HM External (Atlas Cove) &&&&&&&&&&&&&&00.&&&&&00 372
Jervis Bay Territory JBT JBT Territory (Jervis Bay Village) &&&&&&&&&&&&0377.&&&&&0377 70
New South Wales NSW AU-NSW NSW State Sydney &&&&&&&&07704300.&&&&&07,704,300 800,642
Norfolk Island NF External Kingston 0Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ","..Expression error: Unrecognized punctuation character ",".2,302 35
Northern Territory NT AU-NT NT Territory Darwin &&&&&&&&&0244000.&&&&&0244,000 1,349,129
Queensland Qld AU-QLD QLD State Brisbane &&&&&&&&04827000.&&&&&04,827,000 1,730,648
South Australia SA AU-SA SA State Adelaide &&&&&&&&01706500.&&&&&01,706,500 983,482
Tasmania Tas AU-TAS TAS State Hobart &&&&&&&&&0518500.&&&&&0518,500 68,401
Victoria Vic AU-VIC VIC State Melbourne &&&&&&&&06039100.&&&&&06,039,100 227,416
Western Australia WA AU-WA WA State Perth &&&&&&&&02613700.&&&&&02,613,700 2,529,875

See also: List of State codes

Australia has had three now-defunct territories in its history:

  • From 1926 to 1931, the Northern Territory was divided into Central Australia and North Australia, with the border at the 20th parallel south. Both territories were reincorporated as the Northern Territory at the end of this period.
  • From 1923 to 1968, the United Nations Trust Territory of Nauru was under Australian administration, until independence as the Republic of Nauru.
  • From 1949 to 1975, the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was a territory of Australia, remaining so until the independence of the country of Papua New Guinea.

Background and overview

Australia history.gif

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 federalism Commonwealth 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, 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.

Comparative terminology

Entity Type of entity Tie to the Queen Domestic administrator Head of Government Upper House of Parliament Lower House of Parliament Member of Parliament
Upper house Lower house
Commonwealth of Australia Federal government Direct Governor-General Prime Minister Senate House of Representatives Senator MP
South Australia Federated state Direct (established by Australia Act) Governor Premier Legislative Council House of Assembly MLC MHA
New South Wales Legislative Assembly MP
Victoria MLA
Western Australia
Queensland N/A (abolished 1922) N/A MP
Australian Capital Territory Self-governing territory Indirect (through Governor-General acting as "Administrator") Assembly and Chief Minister Chief Minister N/A MLA
Northern Territory Indirect (through Governor-General) Administrator
Christmas Island External territory Mayor/Shire President Shire Council Councillor
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Norfolk Island Regional Council

Premiers and Chief Ministers of states and territories

Post Incumbent Political party Appointed
Premier of New South Wales Perrottet, DominicDominic Perrottet MP Liberal 5 October 2021
Premier of Queensland Palaszczuk, AnnastaciaAnnastacia Palaszczuk MP Labor 14 February 2015
Premier of South Australia Malinauskas, PeterPeter Malinauskas MHA Labor 21 March 2022
Premier of Tasmania Gutwein, PeterPeter Gutwein MP Liberal 20 January 2020
Premier of Victoria Andrews, DanielDaniel Andrews MP Labor 4 December 2014
Premier of Western Australia McGowan, MarkMark McGowan MLA Labor 17 March 2017
Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory Barr, AndrewAndrew Barr MLA Labor 11 December 2014
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Gunner, MichaelMichael Gunner MLA Labor 31 August 2016
Mayor of Norfolk Island Council Councillor Robin Adams None 6 July 2016
Presidents of Australian Indian Ocean Territories:
President of the Shire of Christmas Island
President of the Shire of Cocos Council

Councillor Thomson, GordonGordon Thomson
Councillor Minkom, AindilAindil Minkom


21 October 2013
31 October 2019

Distance table

Australian distance table
2673 Albany
1533 3588 Alice Springs
1578 3633 443 Uluru
2045 4349 3038 3254 Brisbane
2483 1943 2483 1223 3317 Broome
3352 5656 2457 2900 1716 2496 Cairns
1196 3846 3706 2751 1261 3275 2568 Canberra
3022 4614 1489 1932 3463 1803 2882 4195 Darwin
1001 3674 2534 2579 1944 3636 3251 918 4023 Hobart
3219 3787 1686 2129 3660 1045 3079 4392 827 4220 Kununurra
2783 5087 2505 2948 976 2840 740 1999 2930 2682 3127 Mackay
731 3404 2264 2309 1674 3124 2981 648 3753 609 3950 2412 Melbourne
2742 5106 1209 1652 1829 1834 1248 2561 1634 3075 1831 1296 2805 Mount Isa
2781 409 3696 3741 4457 2389 5764 3954 4205 3782 3378 5195 3512 4905 Perth
1412 3970 3830 2875 1001 3373 2495 286 4034 1142 4516 1926 872 2400 4078 Sydney

Distance in kilometres from the corresponding city on the X-Y axis.

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