Executive government: Three levels of government

Parliamentary lesson plan – Executive government: Three levels of government [PDF 236kb, 2 pages]

This lesson investigates the three levels of executive government—federal, state and local—that operate in Australia. Students explore this topic through various disaster scenarios and write and deliver a disaster relief plan utilising various federal, state and local emergency services.


Students will:

  • name and broadly classify the powers and duties of each level of executive government
  • identify and examine areas of overlap and cooperation between various executive levels
  • examine the nature of disaster relief decision making.

Focus questions

  • What is meant by executive government?
  • What powers and responsibilities do federal, state and local executive governments hold?
  • What written authorities enact and divide these powers and responsibilities? (federal and state constitutions)
  • Why do you think we have three levels of executive government? (size of country, federal system, need to respond to local and national issues separately, representation etc.)

Concept words

  • Local
  • State
  • Federal government
  • Governance
  • Federation
  • Constitution
  • Representative democracy
  • Balance of power
  • Checks & balances
  • Executive
  • Jurisdiction

Getting started

  1. Initiate discussion by asking students to brainstorm as many services as possible provided by government in Australia. (immigration, health, education, transport, welfare, library, building regulations etc.) List on the board.
  2. Categorise the list of services according to the level of government that provides the service and has responsibility for its management. (see table below)

Main activity

  1. Tell students several disasters have occurred in the country and that their job is to form task forces that will devise plans of action.
  2. Form groups of 4 to 6 students and distribute the Table of Government Services to each. (see table below)
  3. Groups determine the type of disaster that has occurred (natural, human, biological, military etc.) and formulate a disaster relief plan of up to 15 points. As part of this process groups discuss the disaster, gather information, identify services required, identify the level of government that can provide that service and consider all aspects of administration including communication, coordination and human resourcing.
  4. Spokespersons for each group present the relief plan to the whole class and invite student comments, questions and criticism.
  5. After all plans have been presented, the class votes on the best plan.


  1. What, if any, is the relationship between the type of disaster and level of government responsible?
  2. What level of government has responsibility for disaster relief in Australia ? Why? (states normally administer relief through police departments)
  3. Who determines whether a disaster is a state or national disaster? (the relevant commissioner, followed by the relevant head of government e.g. premier or prime minister)
  4. What type of decision making characterises disaster relief? (democratic, consensus, executive etc.)

Parliamentary context

  • Which body in state and federal parliaments would normally make disaster relief plans? (federal and state Cabinets, emergency services) Can you think of a disaster/s which would require federal Cabinet intervention?
  • Can you give examples of cooperation between federal and state governments?
  • What is the role of executive government in Australia ?
  • Which federal and state departments are likely to be important in emergency situations? What other non-government organisations might also play an important role? (Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Country Fire Authorities, state police departments etc.)

Extension activities

  • Over a week, identify and count newspaper articles which relate to a level of government. Collate the articles by level of government and interpret your findings.
  • Name and count the number of disasters around the world covered by a national newspaper over a given week or month. What other organisations tend to lend assistance to national governments? Why might some countries be unable to adequately provide their own emergency services?
  • By what authority can one country offer assistance in times of political crisis or catastrophe to another? (United Nations approval, recipient leader's signed request, treaty etc.) Describe three examples of this process.
Table of Government Services
Federal goods and servicesState goods and servicesLocal goods and services
  • defence
  • immigration
  • foreign affairs
  • justice & customs
  • trade
  • taxation
  • communications
  • agriculture, fisheries & forestry
  • industry, tourism & resources
  • health & ageing
  • transport & regional services
  • environment
  • education
  • health & hospitals
  • schools & education
  • employment & training
  • transport & roads
  • police & justice
  • emergency services
  • environment & heritage
  • agriculture, mining & natural resources
  • family & community services
  • primary industries
  • industry & tourism
  • excise duties and state taxes
  • building regulations
  • waste disposal
  • drains & water supply
  • libraries
  • signs
  • sports grounds
  • dog control
  • child care regulation

Useful tools


Executive government: the branch of government which administers the law; the group of people from the governing party who make policy and control government departments, and who are answerable to the Parliament for the way they run the government; a group or person who manages.

Cabinet: the key group of decision making ministers in executive government.

Documents and resources