Taking another look at s 125 of the Constitution

Parliament House, Canberra (photograph by Olivia Ronan)

Section 125 of the Constitution determines the location of the seat of government of the Commonwealth. Following the surrender, on 1 January 1911, of what has become the Australian Capital Territory, s 125 has been little referred to in the decisions of the High Court. The constitutional provisions pursuant to which the Territory was surrendered have been significant in determining the source of Commonwealth legislative power in the Territory and hence the constitutional position of courts exercising judicial power in Territory. This seminar will examine the established caselaw on s 125, the opinions given after federation as to the operation of s 125, the debate in New South Wales prior to the surrender of the Territory and some of the intergovernmental correspondence as to the constitutional mechanism by which the seat of government could be established. Ultimately the decision of the executive government of the Commonwealth to accommodate New South Wales concerns about the scope of section 125 and the size of the Territory led to the surrender of territory by New South Wales pursuant to s 111 of the Constitution. The use of that provision rather than exclusive reliance upon section 125 itself provided the foundation for the now accepted position that the source of general legislative power in the Territory is s 122 and not s 52(1). The history provides an example of the way in which decisions of the executive government of the Commonwealth can have significant constitutional consequences many decades later.


Our speaker

David Mossop is a judge of the ACT Supreme Court.  He was appointed as Master of the Supreme Court in 2013. He was appointed as a resident judge in 2017. He has a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Laws from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Laws (Public Law) from the Australian National University. He is the author of The Constitution of the Australian Capital Territory (Federation Press, 2021).


Event details 

This seminar will be delivered in person at the Australian Government Solicitor’s Canberra office, as well as streamed online. 

Date and time: Tuesday 23 April 2024, 5.15pm for a 5.30pm start 

Address: Level 5, 4 National Circuit, Barton (there will be signs in the lobby directing you to the Kunama Namadgi and Cradle Mountain meeting rooms) 


Streaming details

·       Join link:
·       Webinar number: 2653 208 6881
·       Webinar password: 9wpSx7GF7MH (99779743 from phones and video systems)
·       Join by phone: +61-2-9338-2221
·       Access code: 2653 208 6881

 We look forward to seeing you there. We attach a calendar invitation for those who would like a reminder.