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Australia's Political History

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Australia's Political History

Australia's national Floral Emblem: the Wattle © Commonwealth of AustraliaFrom 1788 until the 1850s, Australia's six colonies were ruled by British governors with far-reaching powers who were responsible only to the British government.

  • New South Wales (NSW): from 1824 until 1855 NSW was governed by a governor, and a group of men appointed by the governor, called the Legislative Council; in 1843 the Legislative Council was expanded with two thirds of its members elected by the public;
  • Victoria: in 1836, the settlement in what is now known as Victoria was named the Port Phillip District of New South Wales by the colonial government in Sydney. In 1843, the New South Wales Legislative Council was increased from 30 to 36 members to include one man from Melbourne and five men from the rest of Port Phillip. In 1851 Victoria became a separate colony governed by C J LaTrobe, Lieutenant-Governor of the colony, advised by the 30 male Category: Members of the Victorian Legislative Council of whom 10 were chosen by the Lieutenant-Governor, and the other 20 were elected. This Legislative Council wrote Victoria's Constitution;
  • Van Diemen's Land (1825-1856): originally two settlements, in the north and in the south, governed from Sydney which were united into a separate, self-governing colony in 1825.
  • Moreton Bay District was part of the Colony of New South Wales and began as a penal colony at Redcliffe in 1824. In June 1859, Queensland became a separate colony, governed by an Interim Executive Council until the first governor could arrive from England (December); subsequently, an election was held in early 1860.
  • South Australia (SA) was formed in 1836 with a governor; from 1842, it became administered by eight members of the South Australian Legislative Council which consisted of the Governor and seven nominated members. In 1851 the Legislative Council was enlarged to 24 members of whom eight were chosen by the Governor and 18 were elected by adult men who owned land or paid rent in the colony; and
  • Western Australia (WA) in 1832 the first meeting was held by the four Category: Members of the WA Legislative Council selected by WA's Governor, Captain James Stirling.
  • Northern Territory (NT) In 1824 a settlement was established in what is now the NT and came under the responsibility of the Colony of New South Wales. In 1863 the territory was transferred to South Australia.

From the 1820s, Australian colonists campaigned for representative government.

The British Parliament passed the Australian Colonies Government Act in the 1850s. The Australian colonies each then formed separate colonial bi-cameral parliaments elected by the people.


Leading political figures began campaigning for a federation of Australian states. During the 1890s, conventions with representatives from the states worked on the details of the new government system.

On 1st January, 1901, the six British colonies federated and became states of the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1911, the Australian Capital Territory was created. The Northern Territory was also created in 1911 from land previously part of South Australia. The ACT was later sub-divided with the Jervis Bay Territory being created as the third mainland territory of Australia. In addition, Australia has seven external territories. Until 1975, Papua and New Guinea were two separate Australian territories.

See Australia, Senators, Australia, Members of the House of Representatives and Australia, Governors-General


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