The people rule @

Introductory activities

Student handout 2: Representation at three levels

Focus questions

What is a Federal system of government?
What are the responsibilities of Federal, State or Territory and local governments in Australia?
Why are some responsibilities more appropriate to one level of government than another?


Australia has a Federal system of government. This means that the responsibilities of government are divided between the Commonwealth or national government, which has responsibility for the nation as a whole, and State and Territory governments, which have responsibility for particular States and Territories within the nation. The responsibilities and powers of the Commonwealth Government are specifically described in the Australian Constitution, which also says that the States have the remaining or residual powers that are not specifically given to the Commonwealth.

The third level of government, local government, is not mentioned in the Australian Constitution. The powers and responsibilities of local governments vary among States and Territories and also include regional councils for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Student activities

1. Quiz

Write down whether you think each the following are the responsibilities of the Federal, State or Territory, or local government:

  • Police
  • Immigration
  • Roads
  • Rubbish collection
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Marriage and divorce
  • Car registration
  • Forests
  • Stamps and postal services

Compare your findings with those of other students. Why might some powers be more appropriate for one level of government than another?

2. Issues

In your group collect newspaper articles from local, state and national newspapers about issues concerning governments.

3. Summary table

Use your newspaper articles to complete the following table.

Newspaper, date, page numberIssue in the newsPoliticians namedPolitical partyLevel of government responsible for dealing with the issue

Group and class discussion

  • What differences are there in the responsibilities of the local, State or Territory and Federal governments? Suggest reasons for these differences. Share your findings with the rest of the class.
  • As groups present their findings, write down lists of the responsibilities of Federal government, State and Territory governments, and local governments.
  • Suggest reasons why some responsibilities are more appropriate to one level of government than another.
  • What does it mean to say that a level of government is responsible for something?

4. The Australian Constitution

Read through the following material and complete the task below.

The Constitution is a written document that sets out the structure, functions, relationships and powers of the Commonwealth Government. As well as providing for a parliament consisting of a Senate and House of Representatives, a High Court or judiciary, and an Executive government in the form of a Governor-General and Ministers, the Constitution provides for representative government through regular elections. The Constitution was drawn up for the new nation of Australia formed on 1 January 1901.

Most of the legislative (law-making) powers of the Federal Parliament are outlined in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution. The main sections of this are below.

Section 51 – Legislative powers of the Parliament

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

(i.) Trade and commerce with other countries, and among the States:
(ii.) Taxation; but so as not to discriminate between States or parts of States:
(iii.) Bounties on the production or export of goods, but so that such bounties shall be uniform throughout the Commonwealth:
(iv.) Borrowing money on the public credit of the Commonwealth:
(v.) Postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services:
(vi.) The naval and military defence of the Commonwealth and of the several States, and the control of the forces to execute and maintain the laws of the Commonwealth:
(vii.) Lighthouses, lightships, beacons and buoys:
(viii.) Astronomical and meteorological observations:
(ix.) Quarantine:
(x.) Fisheries in Australian waters beyond territorial limits:
(xi.) Census and statistics:
(xii.) Currency, coinage, and legal tender:
(xiii.) Banking, other than State banking; also State banking extending beyond the limits of the State concerned, the incorporation of banks, and the issue of paper money:
(xiv.) Insurance, other than State insurance; also State insurance extending beyond the limits of the State concerned:
(xv.) Weights and measures:
(xvi.) Bills of exchanging and promissory notes:
(xvii.) Bankruptcy and insolvency:
(xviii.) Copyrights, patents of inventions and designs, and trade marks:
(xix.) Naturalization and aliens:
(xx.) Foreign corporations, and trading or financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth:
(xxi.) Marriage:
(xxii.) Divorce and matrimonial causes; and in relation thereto, parental rights, and the custody and guardianship of infants:
(xxiii.) Invalid and old-age pensions:
(xxiiiA.) The provision of maternity allowances, widows' pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances:
(xxiv.) The service and execution throughout the Commonwealth of the civil and criminal process and the judgements of the courts of the States:
(xxv.) The recognition throughout the Commonwealth of the laws, the public Acts and records, and the judicial proceedings of the States:
(xxvi.) The people of any race, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws:
(xxvii.) Immigration and emigration:
(xxviii.) The influx of criminals:
(xxix.) External Affairs:
(xxx.) The relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific:

With members of your group, select five of these powers, ensuring that all the listed powers are dealt with in your class.

Discuss the meaning of each of these powers and whether or why it is appropriate that the Commonwealth Government holds this power.

5. One Destiny CD-ROM

View the slide show and play the constitution game from the theme 'An Australian Constitution' on the One Destiny CD-ROM.

Previous handout

Overview | Notes for teachers | Introductory activities 1 | Introductory activities 2 | Topic 1.1 | Topic 1.2 | Topic 1.3 | Topic 1.4 | Topic 1.5 | Topic 2 | Topic 3 | Topic 4 | Extension activities

Student Handout