Constitutional Disadvantages and Statehood

The Northern Territory remains a territory of the Commonwealth and is subject to the plenary legislative powers of the Commonwealth Parliament under section 122 of the Commonwealth Constitution. Self-government was granted to the NT under the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 and Regulations.

In contrast, the States and their heads of government, legislatures and Supreme Courts are recognised in the Commonwealth Constitution, and the relationship between the States and the Queen have been further consolidated by the Australia Act 1986. Implicit in the Constitution is that the Commonwealth cannot impair the States’ vital functions nor discriminate against any of the States.

In 1987, the Northern Territory Cabinet endorsed the principle that a grant of Statehood to the NT must be on terms and conditions that will ensure constitutional equality with the existing States. Cabinet directed a series of Cabinet submissions be prepared dealing with different aspects of the grant of Statehood.

Attached to this Cabinet Submission is a document entitled ‘Towards Statehood’, which includes a Ministerial Statement by the Chief Minister made on 28 August 1986 and a paper entitled ‘Northern Territory Constitutional Disadvantages’, which considers the constitutional disadvantages flowing from the status of the Northern Territory as a self-governing territory, and the advantages of a grant of Statehood. Two main types of disadvantage are: 1) where the status or treatment of the NT is inferior to the States, and 2) where the Commonwealth retains legal capacity to alter current equal treatment with the States, to the disadvantage of the NT. Some of the issues discussed include protection by the Commonwealth against invasion and domestic violence; freedom of religion; free trade between States; Commonwealth acquisition of property on just terms; Aboriginal Land Rights; National Parks; Industrial Law; Courts; Offshore Settlement; and the Australia Act 1986.

Read the Cabinet Decisions - Submission No. 4306 and Decision No. 5030 of 11 February 1987

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Last updated: 01 January 2018