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Australian Legislation (archive Sept 2021)

Authoritative Commonwealth Acts


It is often necessary to use authorised versions of legislation (particularly in legal proceedings).  

The Federal Register of Legislation is the authoritative source for Commonwealth legislation, see the FRL website for tips on identifying the authorised version. 

Commonwealth Acts


Locating up to date Acts 

Federal Register of Legislation - Acts from 1901 - present.

TimeBase - Acts from 1998 - present.

Lawlex - Acts from 1901 - present.

Locating point in time Acts 

TimeBase - offers a point in time service for some Commonwealth legislation, and are grouped by subject category.

Federal Register of Legislation - limited point in time service for historical versions of Acts from 1901 - present. 

Hardcopy Act reprints are used for point in time research. Act reprints incorporate the text of amendments which have been made. Reprints are carried out by or under the authority of the government printer. Hardcopy reprints of Commonwealth Acts are kept in the Legislation section on level 4 of the Law Library, view the catalogue record for details. 

Locating Acts as made 

Federal Register of Legislation Legislation Tables contains the Acts Table 1901+ (an alphabetical and chronological consolidated list of all Acts passed and how affected by later legislation. Very useful for historical research); annual Acts Tables 1993+; Repealed Acts Tables 1988+.

Legislative History

LawNow on Lexis Advance provides detailed information about the history of Acts and subordinate legislation including assents, commencement information, and amendment information. 

Commonwealth Bills


Making Laws is a publication which describes how government bills are considered and passed by the House of Representatives. It is published by the Chamber Research Office, Australian Parliament House. 

How to locate Bills

  • Federal Register of Legislation - is published by the Attorney-General's Department and contains bills from 1901-1937, and 1996 onwards.
  • TimeBase - Full text Commonwealth bills. Coverage from 2003, selected coverage of bills from 1901.
  • Parliament of Australia - Electronic bills mainly from 1997 onwards with a few from 1995 and1996.
  • Lawlex -  include links to full text legislation on free government websites, parliamentary materials for recent legislation and a very comprehensive subject index to legislation, including bills. 
  • Hardcopy bills from 1948 - 2012 are kept in the legislation collection on level 4 of the Law Library.
  • Hardcopy bills from 1901 - 1960 are kept at the State Library of Victoria.

Understanding the background of a Bill

Bills Digests are available from the Australian Parliamentary Library and are a description of new bills brought into either House arranged by financial year. Bills Digest provide background information about a bill, covering areas such as the purpose of a bill, main issues, financial implications of the bill and key provisions. 

Bills Digests have been published from 1976 to present and are available electronically from the Parliamentary Library website. If you can't find a Bills Digest online via the Parliamentary Library website, check the Parliamentary Library Bills Digests index first and if there was a Bills Digest published, look for the hardcopy version using Trove. The National Library of Australia have the most complete holdings for the years 1977 - 1989.

Commonwealth Explanatory Memoranda


What is an Explanatory Memorandum? 

Explanatory Memorandum (EM) explain the contents and purpose of a bill in plain English.  Explanatory Memoranda contain a clause by clause description of a bill.  Explanatory Memorandums came into regular use from about 1978/1982 and are kept with bills.  Explanatory Statements have been issued for Commonwealth Regulations since 1993.

'Was there an EM?': Explanatory Memoranda and Explanatory Statements in the Commonwealth Parliament by Patrick O'Neill from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library provides an overview of Explanatory Memoranda.

How to locate Explanatory Memorandum? 

From 1996, most Explanatory Memoranda are available online through the Parliament House website or the Federal Register of Legislation. In each case, locate the bill first as the Memorandum is linked to the bill.

AustLII has a limited number of EMs for 1959, 1971, 1974-76, with the collection increasing from 1977 onwards. Not all those in AustLII are in PDF format.

TimeBase has EMs for bills going back to 2003.

Remember, EMs only came into regular use in the late 1970s, so if the legislation you are researching is old, there may not be an EM. Browse the Parliamentary Library's Explanatory Memoranda Index to find out whether there was an EM for the bill you are researching. In some cases, this index will link to the EM.

If you can't find the EM electronically, but you think there was one, you will need to look for the hardcopy EM which will be located with its corresponding hardcopy bill. 

Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates



Hansard is the name given to transcripts of parliamentary proceedings and is also commonly referred to as parliamentary debates. Hansard is important as it contains the second reading debate (or second reading speech) of a bill. The second reading debate is the discussion of the motion moved by the Minister and is usually the most substantial debate that takes place on a bill. Its purpose is to consider the principles of the bill. Debate may cover, reasons why the bill should be supported or opposed, the necessity for its proposals or alternative means of achieving the same objectives. The second reading speech is often used in legal research to understand the motivation or purpose of a bill and is useful as a tool in statutory interpretation

To locate Hansard online: 

  • The Parliament of Australia website has Hansard for the dates 1901 to present for debates held in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. When you find the year and sitting date you are looking for, download the file called 'Full Day's Hansard' (on the left side of the screen). You can also try a guided search for second reading speeches

To locate Hansard in print: 

  • Hansard from 1980 to 2011 is kept on level 4 of the Law Library, for more information go to the catalogue record for each House of Parliament: 
  • Hansard from 1953 to 1981/82 is kept in the Law Fraser Collection: 
  • Hansard from 1901 to 1953 is kept at Library Store - to access, click the 'Request' button at the top of the catalogue record: 
    • Senate and House of Representatives 1945/46-1951/53 v.186-v.221 catalogue record 
    • Senate and House of Representative debates from 1901/1902-1945 v.1-v.185 catalogue record 

Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives/Journals of the Senate

Tools to compliment you in getting an understanding on the proceedings of what was debated and voted on in a particular parliamentary sitting are the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives and Journals of the Senate.  The Votes and Proceedings are the official record of the proceedings of the House of Representatives. This record contains the proceedings and decisions of the House and the Main Committee; and the attendance of Members in the House, including any leave.


Commonwealth Government Gazettes


A Gazette is an official government publication which gives information about government matters and makes government announcements including proclamations. The Gazette usually provides Assent and Commencement Information.

Locating Government Gazettes 

Commonwealth Gazettes are available from the Federal Register of Legislation from 1901 onwards. 

Print Commonwealth of Australia Gazettes from 1901 to 2006 are held in various locations at the University of Melbourne, see the catalogue record for details.

Commonwealth Delegated Legislation

What is delegated legislation? 

Delegated legislation refers to legislation made by government agencies and the Governor-General under authority of Acts of Parliaments, which delegate this power to agencies. Power is delegated for practical reasons such as saving parliamentary time or to deal with rapidly changing situations as they happen.

Delegated legislation is also known as Subordinate Legislation or, since 2005, Legislative Instruments. 

The most common form of delegated legislation is a Regulation which is used for legislation of general application emanating from a government department.  Regulations were published in the Statutory Rules series until 2004 and in the Select Legislative Instrument series from 2005. Other delegated legislation includes rules, ordinances and by-laws. 

How to locate delegated legislation: 

Locating delegated legislation made under an Act

Commonwealth Statutory Interpretation


In Australia s15AB (2) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 sets out the various extrinsic aids which may assist with the legislative interpretation of an Act.  Extrinsic material which are permissible to assist with interpreting an Act include:

  • Parliamentary debates on the bill (Hansard), in particular, the second reading speeches in both the House of Representatives and the Senate
  • The bill that has led to the Act or amended the Act, and all subsequent amendments to the bill
  • Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies the bill
  • Journals of the Senate and the Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives
  • Committee Reports resulting from the debates in Parliament
  • Reports by Royal Commissions, Law Reform Commissions, committees of inquiry or other similar bodies

Parliamentary Committee Reports which have considered bills may be found online from 1996 onwards from the Browse section of ParlInfo Search. The University of Melbourne holds some Parliamentary Committee Reports in hardcopy. Use the catalogue and search for the keywords 'parliamentary committee reports'. 

Indexes of parliamentary papers is held at Library Store from 1901 onwards (holdings are incomplete). View the catalogue record for details. 

The Parliamentary Library holds an index to parliamentary papers for the years 1992 - 2010.

Reports of Royal Commissions and Commissions of Enquiry - The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library has a chronological list of all  Commonwealth Royal Commission and Commission of Enquiry reports from 1902 to present. The full text of all of these is available on the Senate Tabled Papers Database. From this page, use the pull down 'Description' window, select 'Royal or other commission report' and click 'search'. The reports are only listed alphabetically on this site.
The University of Melbourne holds some Reports of Royal Commissions in hardcopy. Use the
 catalogue and search for the keywords 'royal commission'. 

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Reports - Inquiry Reports and other publications produced by the ALRC from 1975 to present can be found on the Australian Law Reform Commission website.

A range of parliamentary papers are kept in the Government Documents section of the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne. The Baillieu Library holds indexes of parliamentary papers from 1901 onwards (holdings are incomplete). 

The Parliamentary Library holds an index to parliamentary papers for the years 1992 - 2010.

For more information on statutory interpretation, see Statutory Interpretation in Australia by Pearce and Geddes. 

Popular Commonwealth Annotated Acts


Annotated Acts provide information relating to Acts and can be used to trace the history of an Act.  They should be used in conjunction with the latest reprint or compilation. ​

Some popular subject specific titles include: