States and territories of Australia

Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Labor Party Norfolk Island
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States and territories of Australia
Australia states and territories labelled.svg
NumberSix states, three internal territories, and seven external territories
PopulationsSmallest state:
Largest state:Smallest territories:Largest territory:
AreasSmallest state:
Largest state:
Smallest territory:
Largest territories:
SubdivisionsLocal Government Areas and Unincorporated Areas

The states and territories of Australia are the second level of government division in Australia, between the federal government and local governments. States and territories are self-administered regions with a local legislature, police force and certain civil authorities, and are represented in the Parliament of Australia. Territories though, unlike states, rely on federal legislation and additional financial contributions to operate, and have less representation in the Senate.

Australia consists of six states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia), three internal territories (the Australian Capital Territory, the Jervis Bay Territory, and the Northern Territory), and seven external territories (Ashmore and Cartier Islands, the Australian Antarctic Territory, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and Norfolk Island). In total, there are ten territories in Australia, with internal territories being on the Australian mainland, and external territories being sovereign territories offshore. Every state and internal territory, excluding the Jervis Bay Territory, has its own executive government, legislative branch, and judicial system.

State and territory governments have executive authority to legislate on matters concerning their citizens, with the only limitations being on subjects of national importance, such as defence and foreign policy. Each state and internal territory also has its own legislature, although the federal government can overwrite any territory 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 from the High Court, most external territories are subject to the judiciary and legislature of either a state or internal territory. Excluding the Australian Antarctic Territory (which is governed by the Department of the Environment and Energy), all external territories are governed by the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.

Each state of Australia is a successor to historical Australian colonies under British governance, and has its own constitution. The ACT and Northern Territory for the most part operate indistinguishably from states. The Jervis Bay Territory is considered as part of the ACT for almost all intents and purposes. Up until 2015, Norfolk Island was also a self-governing territory, like the ACT.

Geography of Australia

Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Australia is separated from Asia by the Arafura Sea and Timor Sea, and from New Zealand by the Tasman Sea. The world's smallest continent, Australia is also the sixth largest country by land area and sometimes considered the world's largest island. Australia has a mainland coastline of 34,218 kilometres (21,262 mi) and claims an Exclusive Economic Zone of 8,148,250 square kilometres (3,146,060 sq mi).[citation needed]

Statistical divisions

The Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Australian Statistical Geography Standard describes several main statistical divisions of Australia:

The ABS also defines other divisions such as the Greater Capital City Statistical Area Structure, Significant Urban Area Structure, Remoteness Structure, and Indigenous Structure. Other non-ABS divisions include Local Government Areas, Postal Areas, electoral divisions, and tourism regions.[1]

States and territories

States of Australia[n 2]
Flag State Shorthand ISO[2] Capital Population
(Dec 2019)[3]
Area (km²)[4] Seats in House of Representatives[5] Governor Premier
New South Wales NSW AU-NSW Sydney 8,128,984 809,952 47 Margaret Beazley Gladys Berejiklian
Queensland Qld AU-QLD Brisbane 5,129,996 1,851,736 30 Paul de Jersey Annastacia Palaszczuk
South Australia SA AU-SA Adelaide 1,759,184 1,044,353 10 Hieu Van Le Steven Marshall
Tasmania Tas AU-TAS Hobart 537,012 90,758 5 Kate Warner Peter Gutwein
Victoria Vic AU-VIC Melbourne 6,651,074 237,657 38 Linda Dessau Daniel Andrews
Western Australia WA AU-WA Perth[n 3] 2,639,080 2,642,753 16 Kim Beazley Mark McGowan
Internal territories of Australia[n 4]
Flag Territory Postal ISO[2] Capital
(or largest settlement)
(Dec 2019)[3]
Area (km²)[4] Seats in House of Representatives[5] Administrator Chief Minister
Australian Capital Territory ACT AU-ACT Canberra 427,419 2,358 3 None[6] Andrew Barr
Jervis Bay Territory ACT None
(Jervis Bay Village)
405 67 (Part of Division of Fenner) None[7] None
Northern Territory NT AU-NT Darwin 244,761 1,419,630 2 Vicki O'Halloran Michael Gunner
External territories of Australia[n 5]
Flag Territory Postal ISO[2] Capital
(largest settlement)
(Jun 2018)[3]
Area (km²)[4] Seats in House of Representatives Administrator Shire President or Mayor
Ashmore and Cartier Islands None
(offshore anchorage)
0 199 None None
Australian Antarctic Territory AQ[n 6] None
(Davis Station)
60[n 7] 5,896,500 None None
Christmas Island WA CX Flying Fish Cove 1,938 135 (Part of Division of Lingiari) Natasha Griggs Gordon Thompson
Cocos (Keeling) Islands WA CC West Island 547 14 (Part of Division of Lingiari) Seri Wati Iku
Coral Sea Islands None
(Willis Island)
4[a] 780,000[n 8] None None
Heard Island and McDonald Islands HM None
(Atlas Cove)
0 372 None None
Norfolk Island NSW NF Kingston 1,758 35 (Part of Division of Bean) Eric Hutchinson Robin Adams (mayor) [9]
Aus Population - States.png

At Federation in 1901, what is now the Northern Territory was within South Australia, what are now the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory were within New South Wales, and Coral Sea Islands was part of Queensland. Ashmore and Cartier Islands was accepted by Australia in 1934[10] and was annexed to the Northern Territory prior to adoption of the Statute of Westminster in 1942, deemed effective from 1939; it has thus become part of Australia.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands voted for integration in 1984. Together with Christmas Island, Commonwealth laws apply automatically to the territory unless expressly stated otherwise[11] and residents of both external territories are associated with Northern Territory for federal elections. They are, thus, constitutionally part of Australia.

Uninhabited Heard Island and McDonald Islands is treated as constitutionally part of Australia by the central government.[12]

The constitutional status of the Australian Antarctic Territory is unclear, with successive governments treating it either as a separate territory (as in the United Kingdom and Norway) or an integral part of the country (as in New Zealand and France). As of 2018, the present government appears to take the view that it is not constitutionally part of Australia.[13]

Norfolk Island's status is controversial, with the present (as of 2018) government taking measures to integrate the territory into Australia proper (including representation in parliament and compulsory voting). The Norfolk Islanders have not formally consented to this change in constitutional status and assert that they are not Australian.[14]

Former territories

Internal territories

Three territories established by the federal government under section 122 of the Constitution of Australia no longer exist:

External territories

Two present-day countries, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, were administered by the federal government of Australia as de facto and/or de jure external territories, for differing periods, between 1902 and 1975. Nauru and parts of PNG were previously part of the German colonial empire.

Papua and New Guinea, 1883–1949

In 1949, the combined Territory of Papua and New Guinea was created, although both the two territories remained technically distinct, for some administrative and legal purposes, until 1975, when the combined entity became independent.

Nauru, 1920–1968
The Australian government received a League of Nations mandate for Nauru, following World War I.

Following World War II, Papua, New Guinea and Nauru were controlled by the Australian government as United Nations trust territories. The Papua and New Guinea Act 1949 placed the Territory of New Guinea in an "administrative union" with the Territory of Papua. The Territory of Papua and New Guinea was eventually given independence as Papua New Guinea in 1975. Nauru was granted independence in 1968.

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),[16] 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.

Map showing the states and territories of Australia by ruling party, as of August 2020

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.[17]

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 monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II), 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 1915,[18] 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.[19] 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.

The term "interstate" is used within Australia to refer to a number of events, transactions, registrations, travel, etc. which occurs across borders or outside of the particular state or territory of the user of the term. Examples of use include motor vehicle registration,[20] travel,[21] applications to educational institutions out of one's home state.[22]

There are very few urban areas bifurcated by state/territory borders. The Queensland/New South Wales border runs through Coolangatta (Queensland) and Tweed Heads (New South Wales) and splits Gold Coast Airport. Oaks Estate, a contiguous residential of Queanbeyan, was excised out of New South Wales when the Australian Capital Territory was established in 1909. Some Urban Centres and Localities reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics include some agglomerations of cities spreading across state lines, including Gold CoastTweed Heads, CanberraQueanbeyan, AlburyWodonga (New South Wales-Victoria) and MilduraWentworth (Victoria-New South Wales)


Comparative terminology

Entity Type of entity Tie to the monarch Domestic administrator Head of government Upper House of Parliament Lower House of Parliament Member of Parliament
Upper house Lower house[note 1]
Commonwealth of Australia Federal government Direct Governor-General Prime Minister Senate House of Representatives Senator MP
South Australia Federated state Direct (established by the Australia Act 1986) 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 Shire president Shire Council Councillor
Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Norfolk Island Mayor Regional Council[note 2]
  1. ^ The abbreviation MP is an acceptable, and indeed more common, term for members of each lower house.
  2. ^ Between 1979 and 2015 Norfolk Island was a self-governing external territory with its own legislature, the Norfolk Legislative Assembly, until this was abolished by the Commonwealth Parliament.

Governors and administrators of states and territories

Post Incumbent Appointed
Governor of Queensland His Excellency Paul de Jersey 29 July 2014
Governor of South Australia His Excellency Hieu Van Le 1 September 2014
Governor of Tasmania Her Excellency Kate Warner 10 December 2014
Governor of Victoria Her Excellency Linda Dessau 1 July 2015
Governor of Western Australia His Excellency Kim Beazley 1 May 2018
Governor of New South Wales Her Excellency Margaret Beazley 2 May 2019
Administrator of the Northern Territory Her Honour Vicki O'Halloran 31 October 2017
Administrator of Norfolk Island His Honour Eric Hutchinson 1 April 2017
Administrator of Australian Indian Ocean Territories
(Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands)
Her Honour Natasha Griggs 5 October 2017

Premiers and chief ministers of states and territories

Post Incumbent Political party Appointed
Premier of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian MP Liberal 23 January 2017
Premier of Queensland Annastacia Palaszczuk MP Labor 14 February 2015
Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall MHA Liberal 19 March 2018
Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein MP Liberal 20 January 2020
Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews MP Labor 4 December 2014
Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan MLA Labor 17 March 2017
Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory Andrew Barr MLA Labor 11 December 2014
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael 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 Gordon Thomson
Councillor Aindil Minkom


21 October 2013
31 October 2019

State and territorial parliaments

State and territory supreme courts

State and territory police forces

State and territory borders


State / territory Abbreviation Land area[4][23]
Population density
  • % of population
  • in capital
km2 sq mi Rank Number Rank /km2 /sq mi Rank % Rank
 Australian Capital Territory ACT 2,358 910 8 395,200 7 167.6 434 1 99.6% 1 [24]
 New South Wales NSW 801,150 309,330 5 7,704,300 1 9.62 24.9 3 63.0% 5 [25]
 Northern Territory NT 1,347,791 520,385 3 244,000 8 0.18 0.47 8 54.0% 6 [26]
 Queensland QLD 1,729,742 667,857 2 4,827,000 3 2.79 7.2 5 46.0% 7 [27]
 South Australia SA 984,321 380,048 4 1,706,500 5 1.74 4.5 6 73.5% 2 [28]
 Tasmania TAS 68,401 26,410 7 518,500 6 7.58 19.6 4 41.0% 8 [29]
 Victoria VIC 227,444 87,817 6 6,039,100 2 26.56 68.8 2 71.0% 4 [30]
 Western Australia WA 2,527,013 975,685 1 2,613,700 4 1.03 2.7 7 73.4% 3 [31]

State and territory codes

State/territory Abbrev. Call signs Postal Telephone numbers in Australia Time zone
AM/FM TV Amateur Abbrev. Postcode Std Summer
Australian Capital Territory ACT 1xx(x)[nb 1] xx(x)Cn[nb 1] VK1xx[nb 1] ACT 02nn,[nb 2] 26nn, 29nn +61 2 62xx xxxx
+61 2 61xx xxxx
+10 +11
New South Wales NSW 2xx(x) xx(x)Nn VK2xx NSW 1nnn,[nb 2] 2nnn +61 2 xxxx xxxx[nb 3] +10 (+​9 12 +​10 12) [nb 4] +11 (+​10 12) [nb 5]>
Victoria Vic 3xx(x) xx(x)Vn VK3xx VIC 3nnn, 8nnn[nb 2] +61 3 xxxx xxxx[nb 3] +10 +11
Queensland Qld 4xx(x) xx(x)Qn VK4xx QLD 4nnn, 9nnn[nb 2] +61 7 xxxx xxxx +10
South Australia SA 5xx(x) xx(x)Sn VK5xx SA 5nnn +61 8 8xxx xxxx
+61 8 7xxx xxxx
+​9 12 +​10 12
Western Australia WA 6xx(x) xx(x)Wn VK6xx WA 6nnn +61 8 9xxx xxxx
+61 8 6xxx xxxx
Tasmania Tas 7xx(x) xx(x)Tn VK7xx TAS 7nnn +61 3 6xxx xxxx +10 +11
Northern Territory NT 8xx(x) xx(x)Dn VK8xx NT 08nn +61 8 89xx xxxx +​9 12
External territories
Norfolk Island 2xx(x) xx(x)Nn VK2xx NSW 2899 +672 3 xx xxx +11
Christmas Island 6xx(x) xx(x)Wn VK9xx WA 6798 +61 8 9164 xxxx +7
Cocos Island 6xx(x) xx(x)Wn VK9xx WA 6799 +61 8 9162 xxxx +​6 12
Australian Antarctic Territory AAT none VK0xx TAS +672 1 +6 to +8
  1. ^ a b c A number of broadcast stations in the ACT have call signs allocated as if ACT were part of New South Wales.
  2. ^ a b c d This is used for some PO box and large users only.
  3. ^ a b Some exceptions apply to numbers in this state's number range.
  4. ^ The state of New South Wales observes Australian Eastern Standard Time except for Broken Hill and the surrounding region, which observes Australian Central Standard Time and Lord Howe Island which is 30 minutes ahead of Australian Eastern Standard Time.
  5. ^ Broken Hill and surrounding region observe Australian Central Summer Time. Lord Howe Island adopts Australian Eastern Summer Time.

See also


  1. ^ No permanent population, weather monitoring station generally with four staff.[8]
  1. ^ Antarctic territorial claims are generally unrecognised by the international community.
  2. ^ Unless provided, references and details on data provided in the table can be found within the individual state and territory articles.
  3. ^ Perth was defined as the capital by statute in 2016: City of Perth Act 2016 (WA) in AustLII.
  4. ^ Unless provided, references and details on data provided in the table can be found within the individual state and territory articles.
  5. ^ Unless provided, references and details on data provided in the table can be found within the individual state and territory articles.
  6. ^ Under the definitions in ISO 3166-1, the AAT is covered by the Antarctican ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code "AQ".
  7. ^ No permanent population, research station with fluctuating staff numbers.
  8. ^ Most of which is ocean.


  1. ^ "Australian Statistical Geography Standards". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 11 June 2020. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b c ISO 3166-2:AU (ISO 3166-2 codes for the states and territories of Australia)
  3. ^ a b c "3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Dec 2019". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 18 June 2020. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d "Area of Australia – States and Territories". Geoscience Australia: National Location Information. Geoscience Australia. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b corporateName=Commonwealth Parliament; address=Parliament House, Canberra. "Number of Members". Retrieved 19 April 2020.
  6. ^ Crown represented by Governor-General of Australia.
  7. ^ Administered by the Commonwealth.
  8. ^ How Willis Island weather observers survive life working at the remote outpost off Queensland
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Act 1933". Federal Register of Legislation.
  11. ^ "10. External territories". 15 July 2010.
  12. ^ "Frequently asked questions".
  13. ^ "Australian Antarctic Territory".
  14. ^ Davey, Melissa (21 May 2015). "'We're not Australian': Norfolk Islanders adjust to shock of takeover by mainland". The Guardian.
  15. ^ a b Ling, Ted. "Dividing the Territory, 1926–31". Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  16. ^ A.H. McLintock (ed), An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 3 vols, Wellington, NZ:R.E. Owen, Government Printer, 1966, vol 3 p. 526.'
  17. ^ Constitution of Australia, section 122
  18. ^ Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915 (Cth).
  19. ^ "Jervis Bay Territory Governance and Administration". The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport. Retrieved 17 January 2013. Although the Jervis Bay Territory is not part of the Australian Capital Territory, the laws of the ACT apply, insofar as they are applicable and, providing they are not inconsistent with an Ordinance, in the Territory by virtue of the 'Jervis Bay Acceptance Act 1915'
  20. ^ "Interstate-registered vehicles". Government of South Australia. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  21. ^ "Interstate travel". Public Transport Victoria. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  22. ^ "Applying interstate". VTAC. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Area of Australia - States and Territories". 15 May 2014.
  24. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Australian Capital Territory". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  25. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "New South Wales". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  26. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Northern Territory". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  27. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Queensland". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  28. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "South Australia". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  29. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Tasmania". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  30. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "Victoria". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  31. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). "Western Australia". 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 12 February 2013. Edit this at Wikidata