Parliaments At a Glance
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Australian Capital Territory

  How it all started Local Government
  About Parliament Territory symbols
  Who votes? Fact file
  Territory Government Chartist checkbox

How it all started

  • Section 125 of the Australian Constitution says that the seat of the Commonwealth Government will be in territory given to or acquired by the Commonwealth; that this place should belong to the Commonwealth and that it should be located in New South Wales "not less than 100 miles from Sydney".

  • In 1908 the Commonwealth Parliament chose the Yass-Canberra area to be the home of Australia's national capital.

  • In 1910, New South Wales gave up the land which became the Federal Capital Territory. Commonwealth Parliament passed laws placing the Minister for Territories in charge of the new Territory.

  • The Federal Capital Territory was first established in 1911. It became the Australian Capital Territory in 1938.

  • Until 1989 the ACT was managed by the Federal Minister responsible for Territories, who was advised by various bodies over the years. In a referendum held in 1978, voters in the ACT rejected a proposal for self-government, with 63% voting in favour of the proposition that the "present arrangements for governing the Australian Capital should continue for the time being". Thirty percent of voters favoured self government with a locally elected body with State-like powers, and 6% voted for a locally elected body with powers and functions similar to those of local government.

  • Self-government began in 1988. The Federal Parliament passed the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Bill, which gave the ACT the right to govern itself.

  • The first elections for the new parliament were held in March 1989. The first sitting of the new Legislative Assembly took place in May that same year.

About Parliament

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  • The ACT Legislative Assembly is a single House made up of 17 elected members.

  • Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) generally hold office for a fixed term of three years.

  • Elections are run using a proportional representation electoral system known as the Hare-Clark system, similar to that used in Tasmanian House of Assembly elections.

  • The ACT is not a State and is represented at a Federal level by two Senators, elected for three-year terms. The small population of the ACT means that it is currently represented by only three Members in the House of Representatives.

Who votes?

  • Voting in ACT elections is compulsory for all citizens aged 18 years or over who have lived at their current address for one month or more.

  • Citizens of the ACT first got the chance to vote for their own government in 1989.

Territory Government

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  • The head of government in the ACT is the Chief Minister, who is a member of the Assembly. The Chief Minister is appointed by the Assembly, is responsible to the Assembly and may be removed from office by the Assembly.

  • One major duty of the Chief Minister is to notify in the Territory Gazette the fact that Bills have been passed by the Assembly. Once the Chief Minister has gazetted the Bill, it becomes an Act, or part of the law of the ACT.

  • A second major task of the Chief Minister is to appoint Ministers. The Chief Minister may choose up to five other MLAs to become Ministers, who help administer the laws of the territory. To date, no more than three Ministers have been appointed. Together, the Chief Minister and the other Ministers form the Executive. The Executive must answer for its actions to the Legislative Assembly.

Local Government

  • The ACT has no local council. Matters normally looked after by a council are dealt with by the Legislative Assembly.

  • DID YOU KNOW That the ACT Legislative Assembly is the only governing body in Australia that has government responsibilities at both a State and local level?

Territory symbols

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The ACT has no official colours, but blue and gold are used by most sporting teams.

The Australian Capital Territory has no Coat of Arms. However, the Coat of Arms for Canberra, the national capital of Australia, was granted by King George V in 1928. The Canberra Coat of Arms shows a shield supported by two swans. One swan is black and the other white, symbolising the Aboriginal and European people of Australia. The Coat of Arms bears the motto "For the Queen, the Law and the People".
The ACT has had its own flag since 1993. It is based on the first flag for the city of Canberra. It uses Canberra's colours of blue and gold and shows the Coat of Arms and Southern Cross.
The building which houses the Legislative Assembly is situated adjacent to the Civic Square in the centre of Canberra. The chamber can be found in the South Building, which was refurbished in April 1993 by Mitchell, Guirdola and Thorp, the same architects who designed the Commonwealth Parliament House. It was used for sittings for the first time in February 1994.
The Gang Gang Cockatoo was adopted as the Faunal Emblem for the Territory on 27 February 1997.
The Royal Bluebell was declared the official Floral Emblem on 26 May 1982.

Fact file

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area 2,400 sqkm
percentage of total Australian landmass 0.03%
total population 308,000
number of people born overseas 66,746
number of people in the labour force 161,219
number of people currently employed 149,415
median age 30
median individual income per week $429
main products and industries government; education; hospitality; tourism; new technology

Chartist checkbox

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Australian Capital Territory - Self-government from 1989

Democratic right Date right achieved for Assembly
Universal adult male suffrage 1989
Secret ballot 1989
Annual parliament Not implemented
No property qualifications for Members of Parliament 1989
Payment of Members of Parliament 1989
Equal Electorates 1989 - Electorates can vary by 10%
Adult female suffrage 1989
Voting rights for indigenous Australians 1989


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