ACT Legislative Assembly

The establishment of self-government in the ACT


In 1908 the Commonwealth Parliament chose the site for the capital of Australia and in 1911 the 'Territory for the Seat of Government' was established. It was called the Federal Capital Territory until 1938 when it officially became the Australian Capital Territory. The ACT was administered by the federal government until 1989.

In the period prior to self-government, the Federal Minister for Territories made all decisions relating to the ACT. Advisory bodies were set up to inform the Minister about matters of concern to the residents of the ACT. The first of these advisory bodies was the Federal Capital Advisory Committee, established in 1920 which was comprised of appointed officials. The first elected member on the advisory committee took up responsibilities in 1928. In 1930 an ACT Advisory Council was established to advise the minister.

The first fully elected body—the Legislative Assembly consisting of 18 Members—began operating in 1974, changing its name to the House of Assembly in 1979. However, the Federal Government was under no obligation to heed the advice given by any of the appointed or elected bodies.

1978 Advisory referendum


An advisory referendum or plebiscite was held on 25 November 1978 to ask ACT residents whether the ACT should be granted self-government. Electors were given a choice of three proposals:

  • That self-government be granted to the Australian Capital Territory by delegating functions to a locally elected legislative body in the stages set out in the statement, published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 24 October 1978, for the purposes of sub-section 43(1) of the Referendum (Self-government) Ordinance 1978.
  • That a locally elected legislative body be established in the Australian Capital Territory with local government-type legislative and executive functions.
  • That the present arrangements for governing the Australian Capital Territory should continue for the time being.

The results of the plebiscite showed that 63.75% of the electors casting a valid vote at the plebiscite voted in favour of continuing with the present arrangements.

Results of plebiscite

Proposal % Votes
Self-government 30.54 33,480
Local government 5.72 6,268
Present arrangements 63.75 69,893

Source: ACT Electoral Commission


In the late 1980s the Federal Government decided that the Australian Capital Territory, with a population of 270,000, needed its own system of self-government. The Federal Parliament passed the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988, along with other related legislation which established self-government in the ACT.


The following Commonwealth Acts established the ACT as a body politic:

* the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988;
* the Australian Capital Territory (Electoral) Act 1988;
* the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988; and
* the ACT Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988.

The original bills were introduced into the House of Representatives on 19 October 1988 and agreed to with amendments on 3 November 1988. They entered the Senate on 7 November 1988 and were agreed to with amendments on 25 November 1988. The Senate amendments were passed in the House of Representatives on 29 November 1988 and the bills were assented to by the Governor-General on 6 December 1988.

The first elections for the ACT Legislative Assembly were held on 4 March 1989 using the modified d'Hondt electoral system, with the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly taking place on 11 May 1989.

On the first sitting day Rosemary Follett was elected as the Legislative Assembly's first Chief Minister, Trevor Kaine was elected Leader of the Opposition and David Prowse was elected Speaker.

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Page last updated on 25 February 2014
2015 Legislative Assembly for the ACT