In Australia there are three levels of government: Commonwealth (or Federal), State and Local. Each of these levels of government has different responsibilities and powers. As a result, most Australians are governed by three sets of laws and deal with three sets of officials and elect representatives to three governing bodies. A typical Australian citizen of 18 years of age or older may therefore vote in local council elections, State parliamentary elections and at national elections for the Federal Parliament.
Western Australia has two houses of State Parliament. The Legislative Assembly has members elected from 59 single member electoral districts (42 metro, 17 country). Elections are held every four years. The 36 member Legislative Council has six multi-member regions each having 6 members. Elections are held every four years. The political party, or coalition of parties, that has a majority in the Legislative Assembly forms the State Government.
To understand why Australia should have a Federal Government, six State Governments and hundreds of local government authorities, we must look into our history. Until 1901, Australia was a destination and a continent, but not yet a nation. It comprised six separate British colonies - New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. Over the years, each gained a larger measure of self-government from Great Britain. Each developed its own parliament, laws and administration. There are also two territories within Australia - the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory - which have a lower level of self government than the States.
Each of the six colonial governments was made responsible for a range of government activities, other than such matters as defence and foreign policy, which were kept in the hands of the British Government. The colonies decided quite early that local works and services - such as road repairs, street lighting and garbage collection - could be best organised by citizens in each town or district. So each colony was mapped out into municipalities and shires, in which the property owners were given the right to elect a council to decide what works were necessary, to levy rates to pay for them and to employ people to carry them out.
The structure and some of the responsibilities of the three levels of government in Australia today, are listed below.
|Local Government||State Government||Federal Government|
|Mayor, Lord Mayor or
|Councillor||Member of Parliament
(MLA & MLC)
|Member of Parliament|
(MHR & Senator)
Parks and Gardens
Payroll and Land Taxes
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the feeling grew among a number of leading Australians that some of the affairs of government that affected Australia as a whole should be conducted by a central government rather than by the colonial governments individually. The need for a united voice on defending Australia, freedom of trade among the colonies and a common policy on immigration spurred on the movement towards federation.
The Australian Constitution itemised the powers that the states would hand over to the new nation. They covered all those matters that affected Australia as a whole, where it would have been inappropriate to have laws differing from state to state. Obviously such matters would include defence, external affairs, immigration, naturalisation, currency and coinage, postal and telegraphic services. In these matters the Commonwealth has exclusive power to make laws. The states cannot make laws about them.
In all matters where power to make laws was not given to the Commonwealth, the power to make such laws remained with the states. Where there is a conflict between State and Commonwealth laws, the Commonwealth laws prevail.
The State Government is responsible for matters that typically affect the lives of all Western Australians including: schools, hospitals, roads, railways, electricity, gas and water supply as well as the maintenance of law and order.
The system of government in Western Australia is that of a parliamentary democracy based on the rule of law. The operation of modern government is frequently divided into three arms -
- Legislative - The power to make general rules of conduct (i.e. the power to make laws).
In Western Australia, the legislative arm is the Parliament.
- Executive - The power to put into effect the general rules made under the legislative power; the power to administer and enforce laws.
In Western Australia, the executive arm of government is officially represented by the Executive Council. The Governor under Letters Patent issued by Her Majesty the Queen appoints the Executive Council. Officially it consists of all the members of the ministry and is presided over by the Governor. All ministers also meet as a body called the Cabinet. Cabinet is not recognised in the Constitution, but in practice makes the major decisions relating to Government policy and guides ministerial decision-making.
It should be noted that in Australia the term 'the Government' is often used to refer to the Executive Government. This is because the direction of affairs is largely in the hands of the body that holds Executive power.
- Judicial - The power to judge, or to resolve disputes; the power to interpret and apply laws.
In Western Australia, the judicial arm of Government is the judiciary (or judges of the various courts). The Supreme Court is the State's superior court and the Chief Justice of Western Australia is the State's chief judicial officer.
The Department of Local Government is the State agency responsible for promoting and fostering strong, sustainable local government.
The Department provides leadership and advice to local governments throughout Western Australia, including those in the Indian Ocean Territories.
It also has a key role in promoting and supporting good governance in the sector, through its administration of the Local Government Act 1995.
Formed in July 2009, the Department of Local Government works co-operatively with the State's local governments,
industry associations and other key stakeholders to ensure the sustainability and delivery of quality services to Western Australian communities.
The Department comprises four divisions:
- Strategic Business Management
- Governance and Legislation
- Strategic Policy and Local Government Reform
- Office of Multicultural Interests
It also has administrative responsibility for the Office of Heritage.