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section heading icon     landmarks

This page highlights key Australian legal developments, in particular those relating to the constitution and cyberspace.

It covers -

Cases are those in the High Court unless otherwise identified.

Individual guides and profiles elsewhere on this site feature more detailed chronologies on specific matters such as censorship, human rights and Australian privacy law. Context is provided by the broader media, business and technology timeline.

section marker     colonial era

1788 Phillip claims possession of Australia in the name of UK sovereign

1823 NSW Legislative Council established under New South Wales Act 1823 (UK)

1825 Van Diemens Land Legislative Council established

1830 Western Australian Legislative Council established

1842 South Australian Legislative Council established under Act for the better Government of South Australia 1842 (UK)

1850 part-elected Legislative Councils established in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania under Australian Constitutions Act 1850 (UK)

1854 Constitution Act 1854 (Tas)

1854 opening of telegraph line from Melbourne city to Williamstown

1855 Constitution Act 1855 (NSW)

1855 Constitution Act 1855 (Vic)

1856 Constitution Act 1856 (SA)

1856 Victoria, NSW and South Australia colonies agree to collaborate in establishment of intercolonial telegraph network

1865 Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 (UK)

1867 Constitution Act 1867 (Qld)

1879 Australia's first telephone service opened in Melbourne

1883 Intercolonial Convention, Sydney

1885 Federal Council of Australasia established

1889 'Edwards Report' on Australian colonial defences

1889 'Tenterfield Address' by Parkes

1889 Constitution Act 1889 (WA)

1890 Federation Conference, Melbourne

1891 National Australasian Federation Convention, Sydney

1893 Corowa Conference

1896 People's Federal Convention, Bathurst

1896 women in South Australia gain the vote

1897 National Australasian Federation Convention, Adelaide and Sydney

1898 National Australasian Federation Convention, Melbourne

1898 Constitutional referenda to approve draft Constitution in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia

1899 Constitutional referendum in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland to approve revised draft Constitution

section marker     establishment

1901 Constitution takes effect on inauguration of Commonwealth of Australia under Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK)

1901 Australia colonial networks become responsibility of federal Postmaster-General (PMG) under Constitution's provisions regarding "telegraphic, telephonic and other like services"

1902 Franchise Act (Cth) extends vote to women in national elections and referenda

1903 High Court established in accord with Chapter III of Constitution under Judiciary Act 1903 (Cth)

1903 Patents Act 1903 (Cth)

1904 federal conciliation and arbitration system established under Conciliation & Arbitration Act 1904 (Cth)

1904 Tasmania v Commonwealth and Victoria

1905 Trade Marks Act and Copyright Act 1905 (Cth)

1906 Designs Act 1906 (Cth)

1906 Constitutional amendment changes Senators' terms under Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Act 1906 (Cth)

1907 under Australian States Constitution Act 1907 (UK) the reservation powers of Governors limited to Bills that altered the Constitution or legislature of a State

1908 Jumbunna Coalmine NL v Victorian Coal Miners' Association

1908 Attorney-General for NSW v Brewery Employees Union of NSW (Union Label case)

1909 Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 (Cth)

1909 Fox v Robbins

section marker     financial powers

1910 Constitutional amendment and Constitution Alteration (State Debts) Act 1909 gives Commonwealth unrestricted power to take over State debts

1910 Surplus Revenue Act 1910 (Cth) reflects first regularised scheme of Commonwealth grants to States

1911 Northern Territory separated from South Australia under SA Northern Territory Surrender Act 1907 and Commonwealth Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910 (Cth)

1911 Australian Capital Territory separated from New South Wales under Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 and Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910 (Cth)

1912 Krygger v Williams

1912 R v Smithers ex p Benson

1914 Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)

section marker     national autonomy

1919 Australia has separate representation at Versailles Peace Conference

1917 UK government notes that Governors-General were to be regarded as representatives of Crown and thus not representatives of (or answerable to) UK Government

1918 Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth)

1920 Australia becomes independent member of League of Nations

1920 High Court overturns 'implied immunities' and 'reserved State powers' doctrines in intergovernmental relations, extending Commonwealth powers

1920 R v Licensing Board of Brisbane ex p Daniell

1922 Queensland Legislative Council abolished under Constitution Act Amendment Act 1922 (Qld)

1925 Pirrie v MacFarlane

1926 Victoria v Commonwealth ('Roads Case') confirms that specific purpose payments from Commonwealth to States could be directed to areas of government responsibility not included in formal Commonwealth responsibilities under Constitution.

1926 Balfour Declaration recognises 'self-governing communities comprised of Great Britain and the dominions' as "autonomous ... within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs"

1926 Amalgamated Society of Engineers v Adelaide Steamship (Engineers Case)

1926 Clyde Engineering Co Ltd v Cowburn

1927 Loan Council established under Financial Agreement Act 1928 (Cth), bringing state government borrowing under central control

1927 Royal Commission on the Constitution

1928 R v Archdall

1928 Constitutional amendment gives constitutional validity to Loan Council, reflected in Constitution Alteration (State Debts) Act 1928 (Cth)

1930 Imperial Conference accepts that the monarch will henceforth act on the advice of the relevant country and not UK Government in appointing Governor-General

1930 Ex p McLean

section marker     move away from UK

1931 UK Statute of Westminster 1931 reflects agreement that Australia and other Dominions are "autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any respect of their domestic or external affairs, though united one to another by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations". UK Parliament retained ability to legislate for Australia with Commonwealth's 'request and consent'

1932 NSW Governor dismisses State Government

1933 Commonwealth Grants Commission established under Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1933 (Cth)

1933 Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act 1933 (Cth)

1935 R v Brislan; Ex parte Williams

1937 Victoria Park v Taylor

1937 West v Comr of Taxation

1939 Australia considered to be automatically at war with Germany following UK declaration of war

1942 Statute of Westminster adopted by the Commonwealth Parliament under Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, with adoption backdated to 3 September 1939 (date on which war was declared by UK)

1942 South Australia, Victoria, Queensland & Western Australia v Commonwealth ('First Uniform Tax Case') confirms federal legislation establishing Commonwealth's effective monopoly over income taxation

section marker     rights and the UDHR

1944 rejection of Commonwealth referendum on constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and religion

1945 Australian National Airways v Commonwealth

1945 Gratwick v Johnson

1946 Constitutional amendment gives Commonwealth power to make special laws with respect to certain social services, Constitution Alteration (Social Services) Act 1946 (Cth)

1947 Melbourne Corporation v Commonwealth (State Banking Case)

1947 Uther v Federal Comr of Taxation

1948 Nationality & Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth) is first Australian citizenship legislation

1948 Wenn v AG (Vic)

1948 Bank of New South Wales v Commonwealth

1949 Electoral Act (Cth) extends franchise to Indigenous ex-servicemen

1949 Parton v Milk Board (Vic)

section marker     communism, complacency and constitutional review

1951 unsuccessful referendum on banning of Communist Party

1953 Ashmore & Cartier Islands Acceptance Act 1953 (Cth)

1953 Heard Island & McDonald Islands Act 1953 (Cth)

1954 O'Sullivan v Naorlunga Meat Ltd

1955 Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 (Cth)

1956 Joint Committee on Constitutional Review

1957 unsuccessful State challenge to Commonwealth monopoly over income tax in Victoria v Commonwealth (Second Uniform Tax Case)

1957 TA Robinson & Sons Pty Ltd v Haylor

1958 Christmas Island Act 1958 (Cth)

1959 Ex parte Professional Engineers' Association

1962 Electoral Act (Cth) amended to give franchise to all Indigenous people

1962 Commonwealth v Cigamatic Pty Ltd

1962 Australian Coastal Shipping Commission v O'Reilly

1964 Airlines of NSW Pty Ltd v New South Wales (No 1)

section marker     1967 Amendment

1967 Constitutional amendment gives Commonwealth power to make special laws with respect to Aborigines living in the States and to include indigenous people in national census - Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Act 1967 (Cth)

1968 Privy Council (Limitation of Appeals) Act 1968 (Cth) restricts matters that could be appealed from High Court to UK Privy Council, with abolition of appeals to Privy Council from other federal courts and Territory supreme courts

1969 Coral Sea Islands Act 1969 (Cth)

1970 Worthing v Rowell & Muston Pty Ltd

1971 Strickland v Rocla Concrete Pipes extends Commonwealth power over Australian trade conducted by corporations

1971 Victoria v Commonwealth (Payroll Tax Case)

1972 King v Jones

section marker     Whitlam era

1973 monarch becomes 'Queen of Australia' under Royal Styles & Titles Act 1973 (Cth)

1973 Australian Constitutional Convention

1973 Human Rights Bill (Cth) introduced in Senate but lapses with 1974 Double Dissolution

1974 R v Trade Practices Tribunal; Ex parte St. George County Council

1974 Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth)

1975 Australia ratifies International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

1975 New South Wales v Commonwealth confirms that sovereign rights over territorial seas and continental shelf vested in Commonwealth

1975 Privy Council (Appeals from the High Court) Act 1975 (Cth) prohibits appeals being taken from High Court to Privy Council without a certificate from the High Court (which has indicated that it will not issue such a certificate)

1975 Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)

1975 AG (Cth); ex rel McKinlay v Commonwealth

1975 Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)

1975 Telecommunications Act 1975 (Cth)

1975 Western Australia v Commonwealth (First Territorial Senators Case)

1975 Australian Constitutional Convention

1975 Constitution Act 1975 (Vic)

1975 Governor-General dismisses Commonwealth Government, with monarch declaring inability "to intervene in person in matters which are so clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General by the Constitution Act"

1976 Australian Constitutional Convention

1977 Constitutional amendments carried to provide retirement age for all federal judges, ensuring a replacement Senator should be from the same party as the departing Senator and giving ACT and NT voters the right to vote in constitutional referenda

1977 Queensland v Commonwealth (Second Territorial Senators Case)

1977 Maguire v Simpson

1977 AG (NSW); ex rel McKellar v Commonwealth

1977 R v Credit Tribunal ex p General Motors Acceptance Corp

1977 Australian Broadcasting Commission v Industrial Court of South Australia

1978 Viro v The Queen

1978 Sankey v Whitlam

1978 Self-government established in the Northern Territory under Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 (Cth)

1979 Norfolk Island Act 1979 (Cth)

1980 Ansett Transport Industries (Operations) Pty Ltd v Wardley

1981 Commonwealth Human Rights Commission established by Human Rights Commission Act 1981 (Cth)

1983 R v Pearson; Ex parte Sipka

1983 Viskauskas v Niland

1983 Hematite Petroleum v Victoria

1983 Commonwealth v Tasmania ('Dams Case') suggests that external affairs power of the Constitution gives Commonwealth power to legislate on matter of international concern irrespective of whether Australia is party to a treaty on that matter

1983 Australian Constitutional Convention

1984 Advance Australia Fair declared the National Anthem (with God Save the Queen as the Royal Anthem)

1984 University of Wollongng v Metwally

1985 Constitutional Commission into possible revision of Australian Constitution

1985 Australian Constitutional Convention

1985 Queensland Electricity Commission v Commonwealth

1986 Australia Act 1986 (Cth and UK) confirms that Commonwealth and Australian States have 'sovereign, independent' status from Britain (with UK to no longer legislate for any part of Australia, State Governors not representatives of UK Government and States able to legislate to repeal or amend any UK legislation extending to them)

1986 Commonwealth v Evans Deakin Industries Ltd

1987 Queensland v Commonwealth (Fringe Benefits Tax Case)

section marker     Thatcher's children?

1988 Self-government established in ACT under Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cth)

1988 Deputy Cmr of Taxation v Moorebank

1988 Ammann Aviation (Pty Ltd) v Commonwealth

1988 Cash Transactions Report Act 1988 (Cth)

1988 Nolan v Minister for Immigration

1988 Bath v Alson Holdings Pty Ltd

1988 Richardson v Forestry Commission

1988 Cole v Whitfield

1989 Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet) established

1989 Street v Queensland Bar Association

1989 McWaters v Day

1990 New South Wales v Commonwealth (Incorporation case)

1990 Barley Marketing Board v Norman

1990 Castlemaine Tooheys Ltd v South Australia

1990 Bropho v Western Australia

1992 Mabo and others v Queensland (No. 2) suggests that customary laws of Australia's indigenous people may have legal standing, providing that those laws have not been extinguished by legislative or executive actions

1992 Deputy Cmr of Taxation v State Bank of NSW

1992 Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth)

1992 Sykes v Cleary (No 2)

1992 Hamsher v Swift

1992 South Australia v Commonwealth

1992 Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Wills

1992 Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth (No 2)

1992 Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth)

1993 Republic Advisory Committee appointed to produce options paper describing minimum constitutional changes necessary to achieve an Australian federal republic

1994 Theophanous v Herald & Weekly Times Ltd

1994 Cunliffe v Commonwealth

1995 Re Australian Education Union ex p Victoria

1995 Jacobsen v Rogers

section marker     in the age of the internet

1996 McGinty v Western Australia

1996 State Authorities Superannuation Board v Comr of State Taxation (WA)

1997 Ha v New South Wales - State excise/franchise tax regimes struck down

1997 Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation

1997 Levy v State of Victoria

1997 Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth)

1997 Re Residential Tenancies Tribunal of NSW v Henderson ex p Defence HA

1998 Constitutional Convention about whether Australia should become a republic

1998 Kartinyeri v The Commonwealth

1998 Northern Territory Statehood referendum fails

1998 Sue v Hill confirms that UK is a foreign power for purposes of determining Australian citizenship

1999 McClure v Australian Electoral Commission

1999 States pass uniform request legislation to allow Commonwealth Parliament to amend s.7 of Australia Act 1986 (Cth)

1999 unsuccessful referendum on proposed constitutional amendment to change Australia to a republic

1999 Re Wakim; Ex parte McNally

1999 AMS v AIF

1999 referendum on inserting a new preamble to the Constitution - Constitution Alteration (Preamble) Act 1999

1999 Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act 1999 (Cth)

2000 Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000 (Cth)

2000 Eastman v The Queen

2000 Bond v R

2001 ABC v Lenah Game Meats Pty Ltd

section marker     and the War On Terror

2003 Grosse v Purvis ruling by Qld District Court

2003 Austin v Commonwealth

2004 Surveillance Devices Act (Cth)


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version of June 2007
© Bruce Arnold