Finding Australian legislation

Find Commonwealth, Victorian and state Acts, bills and explanatory memoranda.

What is the law?

In Australia, the law is made up of two elements:

  • Acts of parliament (legislation): laws made by government, after debate.
     
  • Common law: legal interpretations of acts and the following of precedent decisions, as made by a judge in court. In this case a judge will follow general understanding of legal principles (eg equity) and consider the decisions made in similar cases to reach a decision. If something is not covered by legislation the courts may still make a decision under common law.

For more information see Victoria Legal Aid's overview of How laws are made.

Introduction to legislation

Legislation is the term used to describe the laws made by parliament. In any year the parliament may vote on new acts of parliament to create new laws, or vote on new acts to change, or amend, older acts of parliament. 

The law that applies when something happens is the 'law as it is at that time'. You will need to track changes to the law and find the right historical version of the law at the time relevant to the issue you are researching. 

As an example, a legal issue from five years ago needs to be researched using the legislation as it was five years ago, not the legislation as it is today as this may have been amended.

How laws are made - Acts of Parliament (legislation)

Both federal (Australian) and state parliaments make laws. Laws made by parliament are called legislation, statutes or acts.

In basic terms, legislation is created in the following way:

1. A draft law (known as a bill) is created

2. First reading: In parliament, a Minister reads the title of the bill and a date is set for it to be discussed

3. Second reading: The minister responsible for the bill gives a speech outlining the bill's purpose. If a majority of members agree with the bill's broad aims, it is debated in detail. Changes or amendments may be agreed on.

4. Third reading: The bill is resubmitted to the house, and if changes to it are accepted, it is sent to the upper house of parliament for final debate.

5. If approved at the upper house, the bill is sent to get royal assent from the Governor (for state law) or Governor-General (for Commonwealth law).

6. Enactment: The bill becomes an Act of Parliament. The date when it will formally come into force is published in the Government Gazette.

The Victorian Parliament has a "How a law is made" chart.

Commonwealth, Victorian or local?

Is the legislation I'm looking for a Commonwealth act, State act or a local government by-law?

This can be a tricky question in the 21st Century as the Commonwealth has crossed over into much that was previously the concern of the states. 

Usually the states dealt with issues concerning the individual such as education, health, roads, property and wills. Now, though, we find that there are often relevant Commonwealth laws in these areas as well. 

Most of the free law internet sites such as Austlii have seach engines that may help you locate the relevant act. However this process can be messy if you enter frequently used words. Such a search will return a huge list of acts. 

You could also try using one of the printed subject indexes for legislation. These are useful for browsing for acts:

Disclaimer

Staff at the State Library of Victoria do not offer legal advice.

Every effort is made to provide up to date, accurate and relevant legal information but this is not intended to replace qualified legal advice.

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