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Australian Legislation (archive Sept 2021)

Tip 1: Know which version of an Act you are looking for


There are three types of Acts used in legislative research: up-to-date Acts, point in time Acts and Acts as made:

Up to date Act (compilation, including all amendments to date)

When you are looking for up to date Acts, you may come across the following terms:

  • Consolidated Act: incorporates amendments made by other legislation since the original legislation was made. A consolidated Act refers to the combination of a number of Acts of Parliament (the principal act and amending acts) into one codifying statute.
  • Act Compilation: current versions of an Act incorporating all amendments to date since the Act was first passed. The text of any amendments that are not in force on the date when the compilation is prepared can be found in the Notes section which is located at the end of the compilation. A compilation is a ‘cut and paste’ version of a law that shows you the text of the law as amended.  Note: a compilation may not contain all the amendments you expect - check the notes for details of unincorporated amendments.

Authorised act compilations are available on TimeBase LawOne, Lawlex, and the state/territory parliament websites.

Point in time Act

Point in time legislative research means establishing the content of an Act at a specific point in time. Point in time Act is used interchangeably with the term historical Act. If your research topic is focused on a specific year or date (for example, 2010), you will need to locate a copy of the act as it existed during this time. Point in time legislation is available  through TimeBase LawOne (coverage varies depending on the acts). Alternatively, most parliamentary websites contain act dating back to the mid-late 1990s.

Acts as made

Acts as passed by parliament, also referred to as sessional Acts or Acts as passed. Acts as made are available on the parliament website for each jurisdiction. See the the jurisdictions pages of this guide for further information.

Acts are commonly referred to as statutes, legislation or law. There are two types of Acts:

  • A principal Act refers to an Act of Parliament that deals with a given area of law
  • An amending Act refers to an Act that alters the operation of a Principal Act, by substituting, inserting, omitting or repealing words or provisions in the Principal Act. When a Principal Act is amended by an Amending Act, the two Acts are to be regarded as one connected and combined of the will of Parliament. 

Tip 2: Be aware of the legislation making process


This guide is divided by jurisdiction and the legislation page of each tab includes information about the documents produced in the legislation making process.

Broadly speaking, an Act starts as a Bill which is presented and debated in parliament. Once the Bill has passed all three readings in each house and it has received royal assent by the Governor-General or the State Governor it becomes an Act. The assent is published by proclamation in the Government Gazette which stipulates the date the Act commences.  It is important to note that an Act or different sections of an Act can commence at future dates and at different times. If you are unsure of whether an Act or sections of an Act have come into operation check legislation commencement tables or annotated statutes.

This diagram illustrates the usual path of a bill through the federal Parliament to become Australian law.  In the House of Representatives a bill goes through the following stages: 1st reading—the bill is introduced to the House of Representatives. 2nd reading—members debate and vote on the main idea of the bill. House committee (optional stage)—public inquiry into the bill and reporting back to the House. Consideration in detail (optional stage)—members discuss the bill in detail, including any changes to the bill. 3rd reading—members vote on the bill in its final form. The bill is passed in the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate. The process is repeated in the Senate. Once the bill passes the senate, it is given Royal Assent. The Governor-General signed the bill. The bill then becomes an Act of Parliament.

Making a law in the Australian Parliament by Parliamentary Education Office available at Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tip 3: Use official sources


Official sources for legislation are those published by government printers or government websites. It is important to use these sources over free sites such as AustLII.  Quick tools for legislative research include: 

  • Legify is an index of Australian Commonwealth Acts and Regulations.  While it does not contain full text of legislation, it is useful as a quick tool for searching for accurate titles and currency of Australian legislation.
  • Government and parliamentary websites. This guide contains a page for each jurisdiction including links to the authorised legislation for each state/territory.

The benefit of these sources is that they link to government websites which are often the official source for legislation. The exception to this is jurisdictions where print legislation is the official version. See the legislation tab under each jurisdiction page for more information. 

Tip 4: Interpreting and understanding legislation


Materials such as bills, explanatory memoranda, parliamentary papers and government reports are a great way of understanding the background to a particular legislative area. This material is referred to as extrinsic material.  

Secondary sources such as encyclopaedias, text books and journal articles are a good starting point to get an overview of legislation, particularly if you are not sure what legislation governs a particular area. 

Annotated Acts are extremely useful tools a) for understanding and interpreting an Act or a specific section of an Act and b) to trace the history of an Act. Annotated Acts often include:

  • Relevant dates - including dates of second reading speeches, assent, and the date the Act came into force
  • A list of legislation which has amended the Act and sections which have been amended
  • A list of delegated/subordinate legislation promulgated under the Act
  • Cases and journal articles which consider and interpret the Act or section
  • Commentary on each section of the Act

The Law Library subscribes to the LawNow Legislation Citator on Lexis Advance. 

Databases such as CCH, Lexis Advance and Westlaw AU include annotated Acts on a range of subject areas.  

Alternatively, check the Secondary Sources for Legal Research Guide for further information.