Legal framework and administration

This page provides information about the governance and administration arrangements for the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Legal framework

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an external territory of Australia. The Australian Government has the power to make laws for the government of any territory, including the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, under section 122 of the Australian Constitution.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands have 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 of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, 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 the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, unless its application is specifically excluded. For example, the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) contains provisions to exclude it from applying to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 (Cth) provides the legislative basis for the territory's administrative, legislative and judicial system.

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act:

  • applies Western Australian laws on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, including the Local Government Act 1995 (WA)(CKI)
  • provides the Minister with responsibility for the Territories with the power to make Ordinances for the peace, order and good government of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands—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 the Cocos (Keeling) Islands has the same responsibilities as a local government on the Australian mainland under the Local Government Act 1995 (WA)(CKI).

For the purposes of enrolment and voting in federal elections, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an electoral district of the Commonwealth Division of Lingiari in the Northern Territory.

Historical background

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands became an Australian Territory in 1955.

In 1984 the community of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands voted in favour of integration with Australia in an Act of Self Determination supervised by the United Nations. At this time, the Australian Government gave a commitment to the people of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands to respect their religious beliefs, traditions and culture.

In 1992 the Territories Law Reform Act 1992 (Cth) amended the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act to introduce a modern body of Australian law to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, 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 residents of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands the same rights, responsibilities and obligations as those enjoyed by their fellow Australians.

Administration

Australian Government

Although the department has overall responsibility for the territories, government services to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, 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 Services (IOTPS);
  • staff and public housing;
  • water and wastewater services under contract to Water Corporation);
  • airport management (under contract to PDL Toll);
  • port operations (under contract to Patrick Ports); and
  • Motor Vehicle Registry (operated by the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands).

The Indian Ocean Territories Health Service (IOTHS) operates a clinic on both Home Island and West Island. A doctor, nurses, health workers, a community services officer and a dental assistant reside on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Both clinics are open Monday to Friday. The doctor consults regularly on both Islands, however, it is necessary to make an appointment to see the doctor in all but emergency situations.

Like many other remote locations on the mainland, specialist services are not usually available on Cocos. Some specialists, for example dentists and pediatricians, visit Cocos on a regular basis. If a person needs medical attention which cannot be provided locally, appointments may be arranged for Cocos residents to travel to Christmas Island or 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 Cocos (Keeling) Islands (SOCKI) is responsible for the provision of local government services to the Island.