The major events and laws enacted from the decision to establish a convict settlement in Australia to the referendum of 1999.

Source Documents


Captain Arthur Phillip received commissions for the establishment and the government of the colony of New South Wales as a convict settlement

1788 (26 January)

Captain Phillip took possession of Australia in the name of King George III


Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) settled from New South Wales


  • New South Wales given status of full colony
  • New South Wales Legislative Council established (appointed)
  • Executive Council established, and a form of judicial review established

New South Wales Act 1823 (UK)

1825 (17 July)

Van Diemens Land Legislative Council established

New South Wales Act 1823 (UK)

1825 (3 December)

Van Diemens Land separated from New South Wales by proclamation



The area that later became the Northern Territory was included in New South Wales



  • Laws and statutes of England to operate in New South Wales and Van Diemens Land
  • Legislation required a Legislative Council majority to be passed
  • Trial by jury was established

Act to provide for the administration of justice in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, and for the more effectual government thereof 1828 (UK)


Government established in Western Australia.

An Act to provide for the government of Western Australia 1829 (UK).


Western Australian Legislative Council established (appointed)

Order in Council


Government established in South Australia

South Australian Colonization Act 1834 (UK)


South Australian Legislative Council established (appointed)

Act for the better Government of South Australia 1842 (UK)


  • Port Phillip district separated from New South Wales
  • Legislative powers of colonies confirmed, and power given them to make their own constitutions
  • Part-elected Legislative Councils established in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.

Australian Constitutions Act 1850 (UK)


Responsible government established in Tasmania

Constitution Act 1854 (Tas)


Responsible government established in New South Wales

Constitution Act 1855 (NSW)


Responsible government established in Victoria

Constitution Act 1855 (VIC)


Responsible government established in South Australia

Constitution Act 1856 (SA)


Queensland separated from New South Wales; responsible government established

Letters Patent erecting Moreton Bay into a Colony, under the name of Queensland1859

Order in Council empowering the governor of Queensland to make laws, and to provide for the Administration of Justice


Crown annexed to South Australia that part of New South Wales that eventually became the Northern Territory

Letters Patent


The range of legislative activity of the colonies was enlarged, especially in giving parliaments the power to pass laws with regard to each colony’s constitution

Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 (UK)


Queensland Constitution consolidated from existing legislation

Constitution Act 1867 (QLD)


Western Australian Legislative Council (part-elected)

Ordinance to provide for the establishment of a Legislative Council1870 (WA)


Intercolonial Convention, Sydney, attended by all colonies plus New Zealand and Fiji. Resolutions included:

  • support for a Federal Union, and
  • a call for the establishment of a Federal Australasian Council



Federal Council of Australasia established. It was an intercolonial body with limited legislative power. It met intermittently between 1886 and 1899. New South Wales never joined the Council

Act to Constitute a Federal Council of Australasia 1885 (UK)

Act to bring into operationAct of Imperial Parliament1885 (Vic)

Federal Council (Adopting) Act 1885 (Qld)

Federal Council (Adopting) Act 1885 (WA)

The (Tasmanian) Federal Council Act 1885 (Tas)

Federal Council Adopting Act 1888 (SA)


UK Government commissioned Major-General Edwards to report on Australian colonial defences. Edwards report called for the federation of the forces of all Australian colonies


1889 (24 October)

Tenterfield Address of Sir Henry Parkes, where he spoke of creating a great national Government for all Australia

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October 1889


Responsible government established in Western Australia

Constitution Act 1889 (WA)

1890 (6-14 February)

Federation Conference, Melbourne, attended by all colonies plus New Zealand. It resolved in favour of an early union under the Crown, and the creation of a National Australasian Convention to draft a national constitution

Official Record of the Proceedings and Debates of the Australasian Federation Conference, 1890

1891 (2 March - 9 April)

National Australasian Federation Convention, Sydney, attended by all colonies plus New Zealand. A constitution was drafted but was not later proceeded with by the colonial parliaments. It eventually became the basis of the constitution drafted in 18978

Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates, 1891

1893 (31 July - 1 August)

The Corowa Conference, sponsored by federation leagues along New South Wales and Victorian border, called for a federal convention to consider a new constitution


1895 (29 January)

Premiers meeting in Hobart resolved that an intercolonial convention be held to draft a constitution


1896 (November)

Peoples Federal Convention, Bathurst, discussed federation at length, using the 1891 draft constitution as the basis for discussion

Proceedings of the Bathurst People's Federal Convention

1897 (22 March - 5 May)

National Australasian Federation Convention, Adelaide session. Queensland did not send delegates. At this and subsequent sessions, most of the final Constitution was drafted. Its most important feature was its establishment of a federal system of government

Official Report of the National Australasian Convention Debates, Adelaide 1897

1897 (2 - 24 September)

National Australasian Federation Convention, Sydney session

Official Record of the National Australasian Convention Debates, Sydney 1897

1898 (20 January - 17 March)

National Australasian Federation Convention, Melbourne session

Official Record of the National Australasian Convention Debates, Melbourne 1898

1898 (3 June)

Constitutional referendums to approve the draft constitution, New South Wales (failed), Victoria, Tasmania (both approved)


1898 (4 June)

Constitutional referendum in South Australia to approve the draft constitution (approved)


1899 (24 - 27 January)

A special Premiers Conference made various alterations to the draft constitution to make it more acceptable to New South Wales


1899 (29 April)

Constitutional referendum in South Australia to approve the revised draft constitution (approved)


1899 (20 June)

Constitutional referendum in New South Wales to approve the revised draft constitution (approved)


1899 (27 July)

Constitutional referenda in Victoria and Tasmania to approve the revised draft constitution (both approved)


1899 (2 September)

Constitutional referendum in Queensland to approve the revised draft constitution (approved)


1900 (31 July)

Constitutional referendum in Western Australia to approve the constitution (approved). This was held after the new constitution was enacted, but before it was proclaimed


1900 (29 October)

Formal establishment of office of Governor-General

Letters Patent 29 October 1900

1900 (29 October)

Governor-General required to execute specific powers of the office of Governor-General

Royal Instructions 29 October 1900

1901 (1 January)

The Constitution took effect when the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated

Commonwealth Of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK)


The High Court of Australia established in accordance with Chapter III of the Constitution

Judiciary Act 1903


A Colonial Conference, held in London, included governments from all parts of the British Empire, in recognition of their independent status



Northern Territory separated from South Australia

Northern Territory Surrender Act 1907 (SA)

Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 (Cwth)

Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910 (Cwth)


Australian Capital Territory separated from New South Wales

Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 (Cwth)

Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910 (Cwth)


Colonial involvement in the British Imperial War Cabinet and in post-war peace discussions. Australia was separately represented at the Peace Conference



Australia was an independent (and founding) member of the League of Nations



Queensland Legislative Council abolished

Constitution Act Amendment Act 1922 (QLD)


The Balfour Declaration recognised that the self-governing communities comprised of Great Britain and the dominions were autonomous within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs

Governors-General were to be regarded as representatives of the Crown and were not in any sense representatives of, or answerable to, the British Government

Imperial Conference 1926 Summary of Proceedings


As a follow-up to the 1926 Imperial Conference, the Dominions were declared to be autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any respect of their domestic or external affairs, though united one to another by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

This was a major landmark in the shift from the notion of the British Empire to the British Commonwealth of Nations; from colonial status to national independence. Once the statute was adopted by a Dominion, it released that Dominion from:

  • restrictions on its power to enact legislation outside its territory
  • the overriding force of existing British law, and
  • further British legislation, unless requested and consented to by the Dominion concerned

However, two impediments to full Australian legal independence remained:

  • the United Kingdom parliament could still legislate for the Commonwealth, though only following the Commonwealths request and consent for it to do so, and
  • The states were still bound by the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865

Statute of Westminster 1931 (UK)

1939 (3 September)

Australia was considered to be automatically at war with Germany following the declaration of war by the United Kingdom. Australia therefore made no general declaration of war

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 3 September 1939


The Statute of Westminster was adopted by the Commonwealth Parliament, with the adoption being back-dated to 3 September 1939, the date on which war was declared on Germany by the United Kingdom

Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942 (Cwth)


First Australian citizenship legislation passed

Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 (Cwth)


The Royal Style and Title of the sovereign appropriate to Australia specified

Royal Style and Titles Act 1953 (Cwth)

1967 (27 May)

Constitutional amendment carried giving the Commonwealth power to make special laws with respect to Aborigines living in the states and to include Indigenous peoples in the national census

Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Act 1967 (Cwth)


Matters which could be appealed from the High Court to the Privy Council were limited, and appeals to the Privy Council from other federal courts and territory supreme courts were abolished

Privy Council (Limitation of Appeals) Act 1968


The Queen was formally to be termed a ‘Queen of Australia’

Royal Styles and Titles Act 1973 (Cwth)


Privy Council (Appeals from the High Court) Act 1975 prevented appeals being taken from the High Court to the Privy Council without a certificate from the High Court. The High Court has said it will not issue such a certificate



Self-government established in the Northern Territory

Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 (Cwth)


The High Court suggested that the external affairs power in the Constitution gave the Commonwealth power to legislate on a matter of international concern whether or not Australia was a party to a treaty on that matter

Commonwealth v Tasmania (1983) 158 CLR 1 (Tasmanian Dam Case)

1983 (26-29 April)

Australian Constitutional Convention, Adelaide session

Proceedings of the Australian Constitutional Convention 1983

1984 (19 April)

God Save the Queen declared the Royal Anthem.

Advance Australia Fair declared the National Anthem.

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 19 April 1984


The Australia Act was enacted to specify that:

  • the Australian States and the Commonwealth confirmed their sovereign, independent status from Britain
  • Britain could no longer legislate for any part of Australia
  • all Privy Council appeals ended from Australian courts
  • state governors were not representatives of British Government, and
  • states could now legislate to repeal or amend any UK legislation in force in their state

Australia Act 1986 (Cwth), Australia Act 1986 (UK)


Self-government established in the Australian Capital Territory

Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cwth)

1999 (6 November)

A referendum on proposed constitutional amendment to change Australia to a republic was defeated, 54.9% to 45.1%. Al States voted against the amendment

A referendum on question of inserting a new preamble to the Constitution was defeated, 60.7% to 39.3%. No State or Territory supported the change

Constitution Alteration (Establishment of Republic) Act 1999 (Cwth)

Constitution Alteration (Preamble) Act 1999 (Cwth)

Parliamentary Handbook of Commonwealth of Australia 2002