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Australian Taxation Law: Starting your research - introductory tools

This guide will assist you to find and use tools to research Australian Commonwealth, State / Territory and Local Government tax law. 

If you are researching Australian international tax, use the Australian International Tax Law page on the Public International Law Research Guide.

To compare Australia's tax regime or individual taxes with those of other countries, see the Global & Comparative Tax Law Guide.

Starting your research - texts and commentary

When starting your research, depending on your level of knowledge of the subject, we recommend you begin with:

1. brief subject overviews such as those provided by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO); and

2. recent scholarly secondary sources. We recommend starting with:

  • recent books. Most Australian general tax textbooks will provide an introduction to all tax topics and refer to legislation, significant cases and ATO tax rulings. As tax law is constantly changing, make sure you use only recently published books. These will often be in print in the High Use Collection in the Law Library. 
  • up to date online commentary, which will generally be more up to date than books. Commentary is usefully arranged by topic, and includes references to legislation and cases. 

3. If you are looking for information on a specific tax law topic, we recommend academic journal articles - see the Journals page in this Guide.

For more information on approaching tax research see Barkoczy, 'Researching a Tax Problem', chapter 3 of Core Tax Legislation and Study Guide (OUP, 20th ed, 2017) High Use KM 356 CORE

Sources of Australian Taxation Law

Australian tax law is created by statute, so its primary source lies in legislation (Acts of Parliament and delegated legislation such as Regulations). However:

  • Cases (tribunal and court decisions) interpret the legislation, and are a second source of tax law. 
  • Tax Rulings by the Commissioner of Taxation is a third source of tax rules in practice, if not strictly in law.

For more information on the sources of Australian tax law, see the latest edition of Kerrie Sadiq et al, Principles of Taxation Law (Thomson Reuters) chapter 1.

Sources of taxation revenue and power to tax by the three levels of government

Section 51(ii) of the Australian Constitution grants the Commonwealth the power to impose taxes, and to impose laws regarding the collection and administration of taxes. The Constitution also distributes taxing rights between the Commonwealth and the States. For example, by virtue of s 90, only the Commonwealth can impose customs and excise duties, whereas income tax can be levied by both the Commonwealth and the States. However, since 1942 only the Commonwealth imposes income tax, and this is by far the largest source of revenue for the Commonwealth Government.

Revenue to the States and Territories is from two sources: Commonwealth Government grants (under s 96 of the Australian Constitution) and appropriations, such as the goods and services tax (GST) - this is imposed and collected by the Commonwealth, and all GST revenue is distributed to State and Territory governments; and the imposition of State and Territory taxes. The taxes imposed by the States and Territories include duties, land tax and payroll tax, and various transaction-based (such as gambling) and industry taxes. 

In the Northern Territory and all States, local (municipal) governments also impose taxes (the ACT has no local governments). These taxes are restricted to rates on property. Unlike Commonwealth and State taxing powers, the power of local governments to tax is not derived from the Australian Constitution - the Constitution does not mention or recognise this third tier of government. The local government sector is a statutory creation of the States and derives its powers from State and NT legislation. State Constitutions all recognise local governments (the NT does not have a constitution). State and Northern Territory legislation gives power to local governments to impose taxes. Local governments also receive grants from the Commonwealth to contribute to the provision of services, under the  Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995 (Cth). 

For statistics on all Commonwealth, State and Local government taxation revenue, see the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics' Taxation Revenue Key FiguresThe chart below shows the projected sources of Commonwealth tax revenue for 2016-17.

Source of chart: Australian Treasury 2016-17 Budget Overview

For more information on the power to tax and sources of tax in Australia, see eg: the latest edition of C Coleman et al, Principles of Taxation Law (Thomson Reuters).