Government in Australia

Our Local Government School Kit helps primary and secondary school students who are looking for information about Council and the role of councillors.

This section looks at the different types of government in Australia.

Why do we need to have governments?

Without government, life would be very difficult. Governments decide what is best for the general good of our community. They put rules and systems in place so that people in our community can live together peacefully.

Imagine what would happen if people could do exactly what they liked with no concern for anyone else. Imagine your own household or school without rules. Picture the chaos on our roads if we had no road rules. Try playing any type of sport without rules. We need rules to keep many aspects of our lives in order. Governments make and enforce rules to benefit us all.

What types of government are there in Australia?

We have three kinds of government, also known as levels:

  • Federal
  • State
  • Local. 

History of government in Australia

When the British first settled Australia they established the Colony of New South Wales which included the whole of the east coast of Australia.

Other colonies were established in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. Victoria and Queensland later separated from New South Wales as individual colonies. These colonies set up their own governments, now called state governments and also established local governments to look after their particular area and assist with building roads. 

The British Government still made decisions on matters affecting all the colonies. 

As the colonies grew and developed, a call for them to join together as a nation or 'Federation' grew. After lengthy discussions with the British Government, the colonial governments agreed to give up some of their powers to a new Commonwealth or Federal Government. The colonial or state governments kept most of the powers they had within their own territory, including local government. 

Federal Government

The Federal or Commonwealth Government is made up of politicians from all the states and territories of Australia, and its leader is called the Prime Minister. Our Federal Government meets or 'sits' in Canberra at Parliament House.

The Federal Government looks after matters that affect the whole nation, such as:

  • our dealings with other countries 
  • our defence forces - the Army, Navy and Air Force 
  • Immigration - people coming from other countries to live here 
  • making or 'minting' our money 
  • the welfare system - supporting those who need help 
  • the health system - hospitals and medical services
  • Australia Post.

State Government

The state governments make decisions and rules for people within each state. Each state government has its own elections and is based in the state's capital city.

Victoria's State Government sits at Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne.

The leader of each state government is called the Premier. 

Each state government controls its:

  • police force 
  • network of highways and freeways 
  • education system 
  • public transport system 
  • power supplies.

Local Government

Each state is divided into regions called 'municipalities' that are run by local government or 'councils'. People who live in a municipality elect their council representatives democratically. 

The councillors then elect a leader, the mayor. Councils hold their meetings in a building called the 'Council chambers'. 

Local councils manage community needs including:

  • collecting garbage 
  • street cleaning 
  • approving new buildings 
  • providing libraries 
  • sports facilities 
  • parks and gardens 
  • recycling services 
  • and the many other services needed by residents and businesses. 


Australia is a democracy, governed by its people through representatives they vote for at elections. The government representatives are elected by people aged 18 years and over who are Australian citizens.

The voting system is more complicated than electing a school captain but the idea is the same. Individuals 'running' for government make their 'policies' or plan of action known to the voters in their particular district or 'electorate' and the candidate who wins the most votes wins the 'seat' - the right to 'sit' as a member of the government and represent the people from his or her electorate.

People can make suggestions or complaints to the government by contacting the person who represents them at any of the three levels of government.

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