Every year when the federal budget comes out we hear politicians debating issues like how much money the federal budget will provide to the States, who deserves a greater share of GST revenue, and who is responsible for what when it comes to law making and regulation in Australia.
We thought we would take this opportunity to briefly explain the three levels of law making in our country. They are:
- Federal Parliament, who make laws via legislation that govern the whole country (for example, the Family Law Act 1975).
- State and Territory Parliaments, who make laws for their specific State or Territory (for example, the Crimes Act of NSW 1900).
- Local Councils, who make local laws known as “bylaws” for their particular region or district (for example, the laws and regulations imposed by Penrith City Council in relation to things like parking).
Different powers given to each of the Federal Parliament, State Parliaments and Local Councils are found in the Australian Constitution.
For example, Sections 51 and 52 of the Constitution set out the powers of the Federal Parliament to make laws in relation to trade and commerce, postal and telecommunication services, foreign policy, taxation, bankruptcy and insolvency, fisheries, marriage (for example, the recent and topical debate surrounding marriage equality), immigration, and defence.
The Constitution imparts power on the States and Territories to make laws in relation to things such as schools, hospitals, roads and railways, public transport, utilities (electricity or water), mining and agriculture, community services, police, prisons, and emergency services.
Local Councils are empowered with the power to make bylaws in relation to things like local roads, footpaths, street signage, waste management, parking, recreational facilities such as parks, services such as childcare and aged care, town planning, building approvals, and domestic animal regulations.
The rationale behind this three tiered approach to law making and governance is that Federal Parliament oversees the big picture, i.e. the management of issues that affect the nation as a whole, the State Parliament deals with State specific issues such as the provision of State specific health and education, and Local Councils, who are arguably best placed to determine what local communities need, deal with the smaller picture items.