Political entity (pop., 2006: 324,034), southeastern Australia. A capital territory was mandated by the 1901 Australian constitution; the site was chosen in 1908. It lies within New South Wales and consists of Canberra and the area around Jervis Bay. Parliament moved there from Melbourne in 1927. In 1989 the Territory received responsibility for self-government similar to that held by Australian states.
Learn more about Australian Capital Territory with a free trial on Britannica.com.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is the capital territory of the Commonwealth of Australia and its smallest self-governing internal territory. It is an inland enclave in New South Wales, situated in bushland.
The ACT was conceived during the Federation conventions of the late 19th century as a neutral location for a new national capital. Section 125 of the Australian Constitution provided that following Federation in 1901, land would be ceded freely to the new Federal Government. The territory was transferred to the Commonwealth by the state of New South Wales in 1911, and construction of the capital, Canberra, began in 1913.
White exploration and settlement did not occur until the 1820s. From 1824 onwards, settlements and homesteads, and ultimately some small townships such as Hall and Tharwa, were established in the area.
One homestead of special historical interest was Lambrigg, near Tharwa. This was the place in which William Farrer developed the rust-resistant Federation wheat strain that had a major beneficial effect on Australia's wheat industry.
When the constitution for the Commonwealth of Australia was being negotiated between the colonies, a point of contention between the colonies was the location of the national capital, with both Melbourne and Sydney claiming the right to be the capital. A compromise was reached whereby a separate capital city would be created in New South Wales, provided it was no closer than to Sydney. Until such time as the new city was established, Melbourne was to be the temporary capital of Australia.
The present site was chosen in 1908, with additional territory at Jervis Bay (now a naval base on the New South Wales coast) allocated so the national capital could have a seaport. In 1909 New South Wales transferred the land for the territory to federal control and in 1910 an act of parliament created the legal framework for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, who had charge of the legislation creating the FCT, also proposed a bill making it an alcohol-free area. With his strong support, the bill became law later that year, though it was shortly thereafter repealed. O'Malley also pushed for a form of land tenure that restricted land holders to leasehold, rather than freehold, on the basis that this would stop land speculation and give the national government, as the lessor, more control over development. This too was adopted by the national Parliament. (As of 2006 all land in the ACT is held on 99 year crown leases.)
In 1911 Colonel David Miller, the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, had the idea for an international competition "to obtain the very best design of the most modern lines for this city". The winner was American architect Walter Burley Griffin. Colonel Miller became Administrator of the FCT on 8 August 1912. Canberra was officially named on March 12, 1913, by Lady Denman, the wife of the governor-general Lord Denman; construction of the city began immediately.
The seat of the Federal Government officially moved to the FCT from Melbourne on the formal opening of the Provisional Parliament House on 9 May 1927. Among the first acts passed by the parliament in its new location was the repealing of the prohibition laws. At first the public service continued to be based in Melbourne, but the various departments were gradually moved to Canberra over many years.
In 1938, the Federal Capital Territory was formally renamed the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
In a 1978 referendum, Canberrans rejected self-government by 63% of the vote. Despite this, in December 1988, the ACT was granted full self-government through an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament that made the ACT a body politic under the crown. Following the first elections in February 1989, a 17-member Legislative Assembly sat at its offices in London Circuit, Civic, on May 11, 1989. The Australian Labor Party formed the ACT's first government, led by the Chief Minister Rosemary Follett, who made history as Australia's first female head of government.
The ACT is bounded by the Goulburn-Cooma railway line in the east, the watershed of Naas Creek in the south, the watershed of the Cotter River in the west, and the watershed of the Molonglo River in the north-east.
Apart from the city of Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory also contains agricultural land (sheep, dairy cattle, vineyards and small amounts of crops) and a large area of national park (Namadgi National Park), much of it mountainous and forested. Small townships and communities located within the ACT include Williamsdale, Naas, Uriarra, Tharwa and Hall.
Tidbinbilla is a locality to the south-west of Canberra that features the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, operated by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of its Deep Space Network.
There are a large range of mountains, rivers and creeks in the Namadgi National Park. These include the Naas and Murrumbidgee Rivers.
In 1915 the Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915 created the Jervis Bay Territory as an annexe to the Australian Capital Territory. In 1988, when the ACT gained self-government, Jervis Bay became a separate territory administered by the Minister for Territories.
In the 1840s fossils of brachiopods and trilobites from the Silurian period were discovered at Woolshed Creek near Duntroon. At the time, these were the oldest fossils discovered in Australia, though this record has now been far surpassed. Other specific geological places of interest include the State Circle cutting and the Deakin anticline.
The oldest rocks in the ACT date from the Ordovician around 480 million years ago. During this period the region along with most of Eastern Australia was part of the ocean floor; formations from this period include the Black Mountain Sandstone formation and the Pittman Formation consisting largely of quartz-rich sandstone, siltstone and shale. These formations became exposed when the ocean floor was raised by a major volcanic activity in the Devonian forming much of the east coast of Australia.
The ACT has internal self-government, but it does not have the full legislative independence of the Australian states. It is governed by a Ministry headed by a Chief Minister (currently Jon Stanhope, Australian Labor Party). Laws are made in a 17-member Legislative Assembly that has all state and local government functions. However, its decisions can be overruled by the Australian Governor-General (effectively the national government) under section 35 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988. (See also Electoral systems of the Australian states and territories). The ACT Government is a member of the Council of Australian Governments.
Unlike other self-governing Australian territories (e.g. Norfolk Island, Northern Territory), the ACT does not have an Administrator. The Crown is represented by the Governor-General of Australia in the government of the ACT. The Chief Minister performs many of the roles that a state governor normally holds in the context of a state, however the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly gazettes the laws and summons meetings of the Assembly.
ACT Ministers implement their executive powers through the following government departments and agencies:
In Australia's Federal Parliament, the ACT is represented by four federal members: two members of the House of Representatives; the Division of Fraser and the Division of Canberra and is one of only two territories to be represented in the Senate with two Senators. The Member for Fraser and the ACT Senators also represent the (small number of) voters from the Jervis Bay Territory.
Almost all educational institutions in the Australian Capital Territory are located within Canberra. The ACT public education system schooling is normally split up into Pre-School, Primary School (K-6), High School (7-10) and College (11-12) followed by studies at university or TAFE. Many private high schools include years 11 and 12 and are referred to as colleges. Children are required to attend school until they turn 15 years old, most finish year 10 (around 16 years old).
In February 2004 there were 140 public and non-governmental schools in Canberra; 96 were operated by the Government and 44 are non-Government. In 2005 there were 60,275 students in the ACT school system. 59.3% of the students were enrolled in government schools with the remaining 40.7% in non-government schools. There were 30,995 students in primary school, 19,211 in high school, 9,429 in college and a further 340 in special schools.
As of May 2004, 30% of people in the ACT aged 15–64 had a level of educational attainment equal to at least an bachelor's degree, significantly higher that the national average of 19%. The two main tertiary institutions are the Australian National University (ANU) in Acton and the University of Canberra (UC) in Bruce. There are also two religious university campuses in Canberra: Signadou is a campus of the Australian Catholic University and St Mark's Theological College is a campus of Charles Sturt University. The Australian International Hotel School offers degree and diploma level courses and operates the Hotel Kurrajong in Barton. Tertiary level vocational education is also available through the multi-campus Canberra Institute of Technology.
The Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and the Royal Military College, Duntroon (RMC) are in the suburb of Campbell in Canberra's inner northeast. ADFA teaches military undergraduates and postgraduates and is officially a campus of the University of New South Wales while Duntroon provides Australian Army Officer training.
The Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) offers courses in computer game development and 3D animation.