Australian legal system


The Australian legal system is based on a federal system of government, with governmental power shared between a central government, which has powers in relation to the whole country, and regional governments having powers to make laws in relation to their respective regions.

The Australian federal system consists of the Commonwealth government, which has power over specific matters set out in the Commonwealth Constitution, and six state and two territory governments, which have power to make laws in relation to all other matters applicable in their region. Local councils also exist in the states and the Northern Territory, as a third level of government.

Separation of powers

A central feature of the Australian system of government is the doctrine of separation of powers, which also underpins the United Kingdom’s political system. Under this doctrine, government is split into three independent arms, the legislature (Parliament), the executive (government ministers and their departments) and the judiciary (courts), each of which exercise separate functions.

In general, it is the legislature’s function to make laws, the executive’s function to administer and enforce laws, and the courts’ function to interpret laws. However, the doctrine of separation of powers is not pure in its application. For example, Parliaments often delegate powers to the executive to make laws (see the sections on delegated legislation below).

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