The De-Colonisation of the Australian States

23 Pages Posted: 9 May 2007

See all articles by Anne Twomey

Anne Twomey

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: May 2007


While Australia's colonial links with the United Kingdom were largely terminated by the Imperial Conferences of the 1920s and the Statute of Westminster 1931, the Australian States remained 'self-governing colonial dependencies of the British Crown' until the Australia Acts 1986 came into force. The States deliberately retained their links with the United Kingdom as a counter-balance to Commonwealth power. They believed that the British Government was politically disinterested in State matters and acted merely as the formal channel of communication in State matters.

This belief was proved to be incorrect in the 1970s when the British Government exercised independent discretion in relation to the appointment and removal of State Governors, State petitions to the Privy Council and reserved State Bills. The States were spurred on by this revelation to seek to terminate their residual links with the United Kingdom, but only if they could directly advise the Queen. This paper describes the struggle for the decolonisation of the Australian States. It then discusses two important issues that arise as a result of this process of decolonisation. The first is the fundamental question of with whom sovereignty lies in Australia now that the Westminster Parliament no longer exercises legislative sovereignty over Australia. The second issue is the effect of decolonisation on the status of the Queen in Australia. Is there only one Crown with respect to Australia, or is Her Majesty the Queen of each State?

Keywords: Australia, United Kingdom, residual links, Australia Acts 1986, Statute of Westminster 1931, sovereignty, decolonisation, Crown, Queen of Australia, Queen of the United Kingdom, Constitution, independence, legal history

JEL Classification: K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Twomey, Anne, The De-Colonisation of the Australian States (May 2007). Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 07/19, Available at SSRN: or

Anne Twomey (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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