This research paper surveys the major constitutional issues relating to Northern Territory statehood and gives an indication of the complexities and nuances involved. It discusses the application of Commonwealth legislation to the Territory after statehood and provides background on the Northern Territory’s constitutional development and the statehood timeline.
The major constitutional issues relating to statehood include:
• the use of section 121 of the Australian Constitution for granting statehood
• the implementation of a constitution for the Northern Territory as a new state under section 106 of the Australian Constitution
• representation of the Territory as a new state in the Commonwealth Parliament and
• the availability of section 122 of the Australian Constitution in relation to the Territory after statehood.
Most of these issues will be the subject of comprehensive negotiations between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory prior to any grant of statehood. There is a longstanding expectation within the Territory, however, that statehood should put the Northern Territory on a footing of constitutional equality with the existing states. The Commonwealth has been reluctant in the past to endorse constitutional equality per se for the Northern Territory as a new state, particularly in relation to parliamentary and executive power. There is potential for tension between the expectations of the Territory and the intentions of the Commonwealth, particularly regarding matters such as the Territory constitution and the level of Senate representation. However, the formal stance of the new Rudd government in relation to the terms and conditions of statehood remains to be seen.