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A state government is the government of a country subdivision in a federal form of government, which shares political power with the federal or national government. A state government may have some level of political autonomy, or be subject to the direct control of the federal government. This relationship may be defined by a constitution.
The reference to "state" denotes country subdivisions which are officially or widely known as "states", and should not be confused with a "sovereign state". Most federations designate their federal units "state" or the equivalent term in the local language; however in some federations other designations are used such as Oblast or Republic. Some federations are asymmetric, designating greater powers to some federal units than others.
Provinces are usually divisions of unitary states but occasionally the designation is also given to the federal units such as the Provinces of Argentina or Canada. Their governments, which are also provincial governments, are not the subject of this article.
The Commonwealth of Australia is a federal nation with six states (and two mainland territories). Section 51 of the Australian Constitution sets out the division of legislative power between the states and the Commonwealth (federal) government. The Commonwealth government is given a variety of legislative powers, including control of foreign policy, taxation (although this cannot discriminate between states or parts of states), and regulation of interstate commerce and corporations. Since the original ratification of the constitution, the High Court of Australia has settled a number of disputes concerning the extent of the Commonwealth's legislative powers, some of which have been controversial and extensively criticised; these included a dispute in 1982 over whether the Commonwealth was entitled to designate land for national heritage purposes under United Nations agreements, as well as numerous disputes over the extent of the Commonwealth's power over trade union and industrial relations legislation.
One difference between the Australian and United States models of federalism is that, in Australia, the Commonwealth Parliament has explicit constitutional power over marriage legislation; this has been a focal point for recent controversies over same-sex marriage.
Each state of Australia has a governor, who represents the Queen of Australia (currently Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom) and performs the ceremonial duties of a head of state. Unlike the Canadian lieutenant-governors, a state governor is appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the state government, not the federal government. Every state also has a parliament; most states have a bicameral parliament, except for Queensland, where the upper chamber (the Legislative Council) was abolished in 1922. Like their Indian counterparts, Australian states have a Westminster system of parliamentary government; the head of government, known in each state as a Premier, is drawn from the state parliament.
In Austria, a Landtag (state parliament) elects a Landeshauptmann, who is not only the chairman of a state government, but also the representative of the federal government and responsible for the enforcement of federal legislation.
In India, the state governments are the level of governments below the Government of India. India is a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic with a Parliamentary system of government. The Republic is governed in terms of the Constitution of India. Sovereignty is shared between the union and the state government, but the union government is given greater powers. The President is the constitutional head Executive of the State. Real executive power vests in a Union Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head of government. The States resembles the federal system. In the states, the Governor is the head of Executive, but real executive power vests with the Chief Minister who heads the Council of Ministers. The judicial setup of the country is headed by the Chief Justice of India at federal level, who presides over one of the largest judicial apparatus dispensing criminal, civil and all other forms of litigation, and Chief Justices of the High Courts at state level. The government head of its legal wing is the Attorney General of India at federal level and Advocate General at state level.
In Nigeria, States are constituent political entities of which there are currently 36. States have an elected Governor and legislature and broad powers in some areas. Powers not given to the states belong to the federal government under the Constitution of Nigeria.
The Provincial Governments are each headed formally by a Provincial Governor but for practical purposes power is exercised by the Chief Minister, in a parliamentary system similar to that of the Federal government of Pakistan .
South Africa is usually considered a unitary state but its government system possesses a strong similarity to a federal one. The Constitution of South Africa does not describe the state as federal or unitary.
South Africa is divided into nine provinces which have their own elected governments. Chapter Six of the Constitution of South Africa describes the division of power between the national government and the provincial governments, listing those "functional areas" of government that are exclusively reserved to the provincial governments and those where both levels of government have concurrent powers; the remaining areas not listed are reserved to the national government. In areas where both levels have concurrent powers there is a complex set of rules in the event of a conflict between national and provincial legislation. Generally in such a case the provincial legislation prevails, but national legislation may prescribe standards and frameworks for provinces to follow, and may prevent provinces from adversely affecting national interests or the interests of other provinces. The functional areas in which the provincial governments have powers include agriculture, arts and culture, primary and secondary education, the environment and tourism, health, housing, roads and transport, and social welfare.
The provincial governments are structured according to a parliamentary system in which the executive is dependent on and accountable to the legislature. The unicameral provincial legislature is elected by party-list proportional representation, and the legislature in turn elects one of its members as Premier to head the executive. The Premier appoints an Executive Council (a cabinet), consisting of members of the legislature, to administer the various departments of the provincial administration.
The United States is divided into 50 states, which comprise the federal entities. Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all governmental powers not granted to the Federal government of the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, making the United States a decentralised federation. However, State law is trumped by Federal law when the two may come into contact. U.S. states all share a similar system of government to the national level with a directly elected and usually quite powerful executive styled Governor and a state legislature exercising legislative authority. In 49 states out of 50 as well as three of the inhabited Territories of the United States (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa), the legislature is bicameral with the houses commonly, though not exclusively being styled House of Representatives and Senate although the name of the legislative body as a whole varies between the states (the most common are General Assembly (Itself sometimes a term for the lower house of a state legislature) such as in North Carolina or simply Legislature as in Texas). In Nebraska, United States Virgin Islands and Guam (the latter two being federal territories rather than states) the legislature is unicameral.
The states are semi-sovereign republics in their own right and maintain much control over their internal affairs with issues such as public transport and law enforcement generally being the domain of state governments (although the Federal government often works with states in these areas). Large portions of the welfare state in the United States are administered at a state level as well which means that levels of social services vary from state to state. This has sometimes been controversial, such as in the case of Medicaid expansion.
There are also several territories, the most notable of which is Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is treated in a manner similar to a state in many areas but in others is quite different. Most notably it does not have representation in the United States Congress other than its non-voting Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico. However, it does enjoy more autonomy in taxation and some other areas than the states and thus is commonly classified as a sort of autonomous region for the Puerto Rican people, who are culturally distinct from the Americans on the mainland. There exists a debate as to the future status of the territory with proposals including full statehood, maintenance of the autonomous territory status, or some form of independence (either retaining limited reliance upon the United States or full independence with no special relationship)
- Section 51 of the Australian Constitution Archived 2011-10-14 at the Wayback Machine at theamericanParliament website
- Barwick, Sir Garfield, A View of the External Affairs Power, Samuel Griffith Society
- Creighton, Breen. "One Hundred Years of the Conciliation and Arbitration Power: A Province Lost?". (2000) 24(3) Melbourne University Law Review 839.
- The High Court and the Meaning of 'Marriage' in Section 51(xxi) of the Constitution, Australian Parliamentary Library
- [permanent dead link], Queensland Parliament website