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Australian Capital Territory - Concept

Law in the Australian Capital Territory

Law in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) needs to be understood in light of the history of the territory's governance. The ACT became a self-governing territory in 1989. From 1989, the ACT Legislative Assembly has been able to pass its own laws. Before 1989, laws in the ACT were made by federal (commonwealth) Acts, or by Ordinances made by the Governor-General. From 1989, these Ordinances were called Acts.


The Legislative Assembly of the ACT was formed in 1974, although self-government did not come until 1989, with the passage of the Australian Capital Territory (Self Government) Act 1988. The Legislative Assembly has most of the powers and responsibilities of an Australian state, although its law are subject to a federal right of veto (similar to the arrangement with the government in the Northern Territory).

New South Wales (NSW) legislation is also relevant to the history of child welfare in the ACT. Under the Child Welfare Agreement Ordinance 1941 (made by the Commonwealth Government), when an ACT court committed a child to a state institution, the child could be transferred to NSW to a shelter in Sydney. Once the child was handed over, she or he became the responsibility of the state of New South Wales, and was dealt with under the NSW Child Welfare Act 1939. This meant the child could be placed in any NSW institution, or adopted, boarded out or apprenticed.

When the ACT became self-governing in 1989, any Ordinances that were made by the Commonwealth government before 1989 became known as Acts. For example, the Commonwealth passed the Adoption of Children Ordinance 1965. From 1989, this law became known as the Adoption of Children Act 1965.

Related Legislation


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: 'Acts/Ordinances/Statutes - Australian Capital Territory', in GovPubs: the Australian Government Publications Guide, National Library of Australia,

Prepared by: Cate O'Neill