Legal framework and administration

This page provides information about the governance and administration arrangements for Christmas Island.

Legal framework

Christmas Island is an external territory of Australia. The Australian Government has the power to make laws for the government of any territory, including Christmas Island, under section 122 of the Australian Constitution.

Christmas Island has no state-level of government, which means the Australian Government is responsible for the provision of state-type laws and services to the territory. The territory is administered by the department, on behalf of the Minister with responsibility for the Territories. An Administrator, appointed by the Governor-General, represents the Minister and resides on Christmas Island.

All Australian Government laws and regulations apply to Christmas Island, unless its application is explicitly excluded. For example, the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) contains provisions to exclude it from applying to Christmas Island.

The Christmas Island Act 1958 (Cth) provides the legislative basis for the territory's administrative, legislative and judicial system.

The Christmas Island Act:

  • applies Western Australian laws on Christmas Island, including the Local Government Act 1995 (WA)(CI)
  • provides the Minister with responsibility for the Territories with the power to make Ordinances for the peace, order and good government of Christmas Island—for example, Ordinances may amend, repeal or suspend applied Western Australian laws where they are not consistent with Australian Government policy
  • provides the Minister with responsibility for the Territories with all state-level Ministerial and administrative powers under applied Western Australian laws, as well as the power to vest or delegate these powers
  • automatically vests administrative powers in Western Australian officials where there is a service delivery arrangement between the Australian Government and Western Australian Government

The Shire Council of Christmas Island has the same responsibilities as a local government on the Australian mainland under the Local Government Act 1995 (WA)(CI).

For the purposes of enrolment and voting in federal elections, Christmas Island is an electoral district of the Commonwealth Division of Lingiari in the Northern Territory.

Historical Background

Christmas Island came under the jurisdiction of the new British Colony of Singapore after the Second World War. It existed as a separate Crown colony, until its transfer to Australian on 1 January 1958. The Singapore administration was paid UK£2.9 million in compensation for lost revenue as part of this transfer process.

The day of Christmas Island's transfer to Australia in 1958 is celebrated each year on the first Monday in October as Territory Day.

Until 1992, the laws of Christmas Island remained largely based on the laws of colonial Singapore. The Territories Law Reform Act 1992 (Cth) amended the Christmas Island Act to introduce a modern body of Australian law to Christmas Island, including provisions to enliven the application of most Australian Government laws and regulations and to apply Western Australian laws to the territory. This was a major step in extending its residents the same rights, responsibilities and obligations as those enjoyed by their fellow Australians.


Australian Government

Although the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities has overall responsibility for the territories, government services to Christmas Island, such as those involving quarantine and customs, are the responsibility of the relevant Australian Government agencies.

State-type services

State-type services are provided through:

  • Service Delivery Arrangements between the Australian Government and Western Australian State Government agencies;
  • direct administration by the department; and
  • contractual arrangements with other organisations

Through the Indian Ocean Territories Administration (IOTA), the department delivers services such as:

  • electricity to the Island through the Indian Ocean Territories Power Authority (IOTPA)
  • medical services through the Indian Ocean territories Health Services (IOTHS)
  • staff and public housing
  • airport management (under contract to PDLToll)
  • port operations (under contract to Patrick Ports), and
  • Motor Vehicle Registry.

The Indian Ocean Territories Health Service (IOTHS) provides a comprehensive range of medical, nursing and ancillary health service from the Christmas Island hospital. Like many other remote locations on the mainland, specialist services are not always available on Christmas Island. Health specialists visit Christmas Island to provide services in orthopaedics, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, ear nose and throat, opthalmology, radiology and women's health. If a person needs medical attention which cannot be provided locally, appointments may be arranged for residents to travel to Perth as required. If an emergency is beyond the capacity of local resources the doctor may recommend evacuation to Perth.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) provides community policing services to Christmas Island. In addition to normal police functions the AFP carry out other duties such as: immigration, processing of aircraft, visiting ships and yachts, and coordination of emergency operations.

Local government services

The Shire of Christmas Island (SOCI) is responsible for the provision of local government services to the Island.