States and territories of Australia
States and territories of Australia (officially known as the Commonwealth of Australia) is a federation of six states, together with ten federal territories. The Australian mainland consists of five of the six federated states and three of the federal territories (the “internal” territories). The state of Tasmania is an island about 200 kilometres (120 mi) south of the mainland. The remaining seven territories are classified for some purposes as “external” territories.
All states and the two largest internal territories are partially self-governing, as well as being represented in the federal parliament; the other territories are administered by the federal government. Since 2015, federal control has also been extended to the formerly self-governing territory of Norfolk Island. The third internal territory is the Jervis Bay Territory (JBT) which is on the coast of New South Wales south of Sydney and east of Canberra. Three of the external territories are inhabited; the others are uninhabited, apart from temporary-resident scientists.
The term geographic Australia is used by the Australian government to describe the area covered by demographic statistics such as national population figures. This area comprises Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in addition to the six states and three mainland territories; Norfolk Island is the only territory with a permanent population that is not part of geographic Australia.
States, territories, and external territories
Second level Reference map for states and territories of Australia
States and territories of Australia[n 1]
Flag State/territory name Abbrev ISO Postal Type Capital
(or largest settlement)
Population Area (km²) New South Wales NSW AU-NSW NSW State Sydney 7,704,300 800,628 Queensland Qld AU-QLD QLD State Brisbane 4,827,000 1,723,936 South Australia SA AU-SA SA State Adelaide 1,706,500 978,810 Tasmania Tas AU-TAS TAS State Hobart 518,500 64,519 Victoria Vic AU-VIC VIC State Melbourne 6,039,100 227,010 Western Australia WA AU-WA WA State Perth[n 2] 2,613,700 2,526,786 Australian Capital Territory ACT AU-ACT ACT Territory Canberra 397,397 2,280 [n 3] Jervis Bay Territory JBT JBT Territory (Jervis Bay Village) 391 72 Northern Territory NT AU-NT NT Territory Darwin 244,000 1,335,742 [n 3] Ashmore and Cartier Islands External (Offshore anchorage) 0 199 [n 3] Australian Antarctic Territory AAT AQ[n 4] External Davis Station [n 5]1,000 5,896,500 Christmas Island CX External[n 6] Flying Fish Cove 2,072 135 Cocos (Keeling) Islands CC External[n 6] West Island/Pulu Panjang 596 14 [n 3] Coral Sea Islands External (Willis Island) [n 7]4 10 [n 3] Heard Island and McDonald Islands HIMI HM External (Atlas Cove) 0 372 Norfolk Island NF External[n 6] Kingston 2,302 35
All states, (internal) territories and the external territory of Coral Sea Islands were part of Australia at federation and are constitutionally part of the Commonwealth. Northern Territory was part of South Australia, Australian Capital Territory and Jervis Bay Territory were part of New South Wales, and Coral Sea Islands was part of Queensland. Ashmore and Cartier Islands was accepted by Australia in 1934 and annexed to Northern Territory prior to the adoption of the Statute of Westminster in 1942 and, as such, is deemed to form part of Australia proper.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands voted for integration in 1984. Together with Christmas Island, Commonwealth laws apply automatically to the territory unless expressly stated otherwise and residents of both external territories are associated with Northern Territory for federal elections. They are, thus, constitutionally part of Australia.
Uninhabited Heard and McDonald Island is treated as constitutionally part of Australia by the central government.
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.
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.
Three territories established by the federal government under section 122 of the Constitution of Australia no longer exist:
- Central Australia (1926–1931), consisting of the area of the current Northern Territory south of the 20th parallel south
- North Australia (1926–1931), consisting of the area of the current Northern Territory north of the 20th parallel south
- Territory of Papua (1905–1975)
Additionally, two other areas were administered by Australia as de facto external territories.
Both New Guinea and Nauru were originally German territories, but were occupied by Australian forces during World War I and subsequently made League of Nations mandates. They later became 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
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), 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.
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.
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 Queen, 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, 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. 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.
- 1788 – British Empire establishes Colony of New South Wales across central and eastern mainland Australia, the island of Tasmania, both islands of New Zealand and Norfolk Island.
- 1803 – The Coral Sea Islands are claimed by New South Wales
- 1825 – The island of Tasmania becomes the independent colony of Van Diemen’s Land. New South Wales extends its borders further west in mainland Australia.
- 1829 – British Empire establishes Swan River Colony in western mainland Australia
- 1832 – Swan River Colony is renamed the colony of Western Australia
- 1841 – The islands of New Zealand become the independent colony of New Zealand. Much of eastern Antarctica is annexed by Britain as Victoria Land.
- 1844 – New South Wales transfers Norfolk Island to Van Diemen’s Land
- 1846 – Northern central and eastern Australia briefly become the independent Colony of North Australia, then are returned to New South Wales.
- 1851 – Southeastern mainland Australia becomes the independent colony of Victoria
- 1856 – Van Diemen’s Land is renamed the colony of Tasmania. Norfolk Island becomes the independent colony of Norfolk Island, however it is to be administered by the same Governor as New South Wales.
- 1857 – Much of southern central mainland Australia becomes the independent colony of South Australia. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are annexed by Britain.
- 1859 – Northeastern mainland Australia and Coral Sea Islands become the independent colony of Queensland
- 1860 – A pocket of New South Wales territory remaining in southern central mainland Australia is transferred to South Australia
- 1862 – Some of New South Wales’ northern central mainland Australian territory is transferred to Queensland
- 1863 – New South Wales’ remaining northern central mainland Australian territory is transferred to South Australia
- 1878 – Britain annexes Ashmore Island
- 1883 – Queensland annexes southeastern New Guinea
- 1884 – Southeastern New Guinea becomes the independent Territory of Papua
- 1886 – The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are to be administered by the same Governor as the Straits Settlements
- 1888 – Christmas Island is annexed by Britain and incorporated into the Straits Settlements
- 1897 – Norfolk Island is officially reintegrated into New South Wales
- 1901 – New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia federate into the Commonwealth of Australia. Queensland transfers the Coral Sea Islands to the federal government, creating a federal external territory.
- 1902 – Britain transfers Papua to Australia as an external territory
- 1903 – The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are incorporated into the Straits Settlements
- 1909 – Britain annexes Cartier Island
- 1910 – Britain claims Heard Island and the McDonald Islands
- 1911 – The state of South Australia transfers control of northern central mainland Australia to the federal government, creating the Northern Territory. A small pocket of New South Wales around the city of Canberra is transferred to the federal government (who are seated within it), creating the Federal Capital Territory.
- 1913 – New South Wales transfers Norfolk Island to the federal government, making it a federal external territory
- 1915 – A small pocket of New South Wales around Jervis Bay is transferred to the federal government and incorporated into the Federal Capital Territory
- 1920 – Following the defeat of the German Empire in World War I, the League of Nations establishes an Australian mandate in northeastern New Guinea, it becomes the external Territory of New Guinea
- 1923 – Another conquered German territory, the island of Nauru, is established as an Australian mandate and external territory by the League of Nations, this time as a co-mandate with Britain and New Zealand
- 1927 – The Northern Territory is split into two territories – North Australia and Central Australia
- 1930 – Remaining territory in eastern Antarctica is annexed by Britain as Enderby Land
- 1931 – North Australia and Central Australia are reincorporated as the Northern Territory. Britain recognises Australia as possessors of the uninhabited Ashmore and Cartier Islands, making them an external federal territory.
- 1933 – Britain transfers Victoria Land and Enderby Land to Australia, creating the Australian Antarctic Territory, with ongoing limited international recognition
- 1938 – The Federal Capital Territory is renamed the Australian Capital Territory
- 1942 – The Japanese Empire conquers Nauru from Australia, Britain and New Zealand as part of World War II. Japan also conquers much of the Straits Settlements, including Christmas Island. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are not conquered and are transferred to the Colony of Ceylong.
- 1946 – The United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations, renews its mandate of New Guinea to Australia
- 1947 – Following the defeat of Japan in World War II, the United Nations returns Nauru to Australia, Britain and New Zealand as a joint mandate. Christmas Island returns to Britain and is incorporated into the Colony of Singapore. The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are also transferred to Singapore.
- 1949 – Papua and New Guinea are incorporated into the singular Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Britain transfers Heard Island and the McDonald Islands to Australia, creating a federal external territory.
- 1955 – Britain transfers the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to Australia, they become an external territory
- 1958 – Britain transfers Christmas Island to Australia, it becomes an external territory
- 1966 – The Republic of Nauru is established, ending Australian/British/New Zealander control of the island
- 1975 – Papua and New Guinea becomes the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, ending British/Australian control
- 1978 – Northern Territory gains self-government with certain Commonwealth control.
- 1989 – Jervis Bay becomes independent of the ACT, becoming the Jervis Bay Territory
- 1993 – Australian Capital Territory gains self-government with certain Commonwealth control.
- 2015 – Norfolk Island loses self-government with full Commonwealth control.
Entity Type of entity Tie to the Queen 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 Tasmania 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 Mayor/shire president Shire Council Councillor Cocos (Keeling) Islands Norfolk Island Regional Council[note 2] Note:
- The abbreviation MP is an acceptable, and indeed more common, term for members of each lower house.
- 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 New South Wales His Excellency David Hurley 2 October 2014 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 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 Will Hodgman MP Liberal 31 March 2014 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 6 July 2016 Presidents of Australian Indian Ocean Territories:
Councillor Foo Kee Heng
Councillor Balmut Pirus
18 October 2011
State and territorial parliaments
- Parliament of New South Wales
- Parliament of Queensland
- Parliament of South Australia
- Parliament of Tasmania
- Parliament of Victoria
- Parliament of Western Australia
- Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
- Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly
State and territory supreme courts
- Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory
- Supreme Court of New South Wales
- Supreme Court of the Northern Territory
- Supreme Court of Queensland
- Supreme Court of South Australia
- Supreme Court of Tasmania
- Supreme Court of Victoria
- Supreme Court of Western Australia
- Supreme Court of Norfolk Island
State and territory police forces
- Australian Capital Territory Police (performed by Australian Federal Police)
- New South Wales Police
- Northern Territory Police
- Queensland Police
- South Australia Police
- Tasmania Police
- Victoria Police
- Western Australia Police
State and territory borders
- Australian Capital Territory border
- New South Wales borders
- Northern Territory borders
- Queensland borders
- South Australian borders
- Tasmanian borders
- Victorian borders
- Western Australia border
State / territory Abbreviation Land area
- (2016 census)
- % of population
- in capital
Notes km2 sq mi Rank Number Rank /km2 /sq mi Rank % Rank Australian Capital Territory ACT 2,280 880 8 395,200 7 167.6 434 1 99.6% 1  New South Wales NSW 800,628 309,124 5 7,704,300 1 9.62 24.9 3 63.0% 5  Northern Territory NT 1,335,742 515,733 3 244,000 8 0.18 0.47 8 54.0% 6  Queensland QLD 1,723,936 665,615 2 4,827,000 3 2.79 7.2 5 46.0% 7  South Australia SA 978,810 377,920 4 1,706,500 5 1.74 4.5 6 73.5% 2  Tasmania TAS 64,519 24,911 7 518,500 6 7.58 19.6 4 41.0% 8  Victoria VIC 227,010 87,650 6 6,039,100 2 26.56 68.8 2 71.0% 4  Western Australia WA 2,526,786 975,598 1 2,613,700 4 1.03 2.7 7 73.4% 3 
Australian distance table Adelaide 2673 Albany 1533 3588 Alice Springs 1578 3633 443 Uluru 2045 4349 3038 3254 Brisbane 2483 1943 2483 1223 3317 Broome 3352 5656 2457 2900 1716 2496 Cairns 1196 3846 3706 2751 1261 3275 2568 Canberra 3022 4614 1489 1932 3463 1803 2882 4195 Darwin 1001 3674 2534 2579 1944 3636 3251 918 4023 Hobart 3219 3787 1686 2129 3660 1045 3079 4392 827 4220 Kununurra 2783 5087 2505 2948 976 2840 740 1999 2930 2682 3127 Mackay 731 3404 2264 2309 1674 3124 2981 648 3753 609 3950 2412 Melbourne 2742 5106 1209 1652 1829 1834 1248 2561 1634 3075 1831 1296 2805 Mount Isa 2781 409 3696 3741 4457 2389 5764 3954 4205 3782 3378 5195 3512 4905 Perth 1412 3970 3830 2875 1001 3373 2495 286 4034 1142 4516 1926 872 2400 4078 Sydney
Distance in kilometres from the corresponding city on the X-Y axis.
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 1⁄2) +11 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 1⁄2 +10 1⁄2 Western Australia WA 6xx(x) xx(x)Wn VK6xx WA 6nnn +61 8 9xxx xxxx
+61 8 6xxx xxxx
+8 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 1⁄2 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 1⁄2 Australian Antarctic Territory AAT none VK0xx TAS +672 1 +6 to +8 Macquarie Island none +10 +11
- A number of broadcast stations in the ACT have call signs allocated as if ACT were part of New South Wales.
- This is used for some PO box and large users only.
- Some exceptions apply to numbers in this state’s number range.
- ISO 3166-2:AU, the ISO codes for the states and territories of Australia.
- Australian regional rivalries
- List of Australian demonyms
- List of proposed states of Australia
- Unless provided, references and details on data provided in the table can be found within the individual state and territory articles.
- Perth was defined as the capital by statute in 2016: City of Perth Act 2016 (WA) in AustLII.
- The national Flag of Australia is used in territories which have no flag of their own.
- Under the definitions in ISO 3166-1, the AAT is covered by the Antarctican ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code “AQ”.
- No permanent population, research station with fluctuating staff numbers.
- Part of geographic Australia
- No permanent population, weather monitoring station generally with four staff.
- Strom, Marcus (1 June 2016). “Norfolk Island elects council that supports self-determination”. The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Pink, Brian (2010). “Definition of Australia”. Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC) (Report). Australian Bureau of Statistics. p. 5.
- ISO 3166-2:AU (ISO 3166-2 codes for the states and territories of Australia)
- “3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, Mar 2016”. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 22 September 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
- “Area of Australia – States and Territories”. Geoscience Australia: National Location Information. Geoscience Australia. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
- Ling, Ted. “Dividing the Territory, 1926–31”. Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
- A.H. McLintock (ed), An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 3 vols, Wellington, NZ:R.E. Owen, Government Printer, 1966, vol 3 p. 526.’
- Constitution of Australia, section 122
- Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915 (Cth).
- “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’
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Australian Capital Territory”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “New South Wales”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Northern Territory”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Queensland”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “South Australia”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Tasmania”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). “Victoria”. 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (31 October 2012). “Western Australia”. 2011 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 12 February 2013.