As always in legal research, it is important to have a clear idea of what you are looking for. Begin by thinking about jurisdiction. Is it federal or state legislation? Next consider what form the legislation takes. Is it a bill, an Act or a regulation? Finally, what is the name of the legislation?
If you find that you cannot answer most of these questions then the best strategy, in order to avoid wasting time, is to turn to secondary sources such as textbooks, legal encyclopedias and legal journal articles. The commentary in secondary sources may help you find answers to these questions and therefore a clearer understanding of what it is that you are looking for.
Australian Acts or Statutes have a layout which includes:
Every Act has two titles, the full or long title and the short title. The short title is the most frequently used. A full title may be similar to a statement of purpose:
Long title: An Act to establish the Australian Human Rights Commission, to make provision in relation to human rights and in relation to equal opportunity in employment, and for related purposes.
Short title: Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 No. 125.
Although there may be some variation in numbering systems, in the main each Act is given a sequential number, as it is introduced into a Parliament for a calendar year.
Different sections of an Act may commence at different times. Acts often commence upon Royal Assent - the date when it is signed and approved by the Queen's representative.
Definitions or Interpretation
Many Acts include a section which defines words used in the Act.
Body of the Act
The body of the Act is divided into numbered sections, which may be further divided into subsections, paragraphs and subparagraphs:
3. (1) In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears:
"act or practice" means:
(a) an act done or practice engaged:
(i) by or on behalf of the Commonwealth or an authority of the Commonwealth;
In longer Acts a number of sections may be treated as a group or part. Parts may be divided into smaller parts or divisions and then further divided into numbered sections.
These appear at the end of the Act. They are like an Appendix and may include tables and lists that usually specify detailed provisions for the working out of the Act.
The history of the Act may also be included here, along with information about the second reading speech (including the date/s delivered to Parliament).
OzCase - Queensland Historical Legal Collection
Commencement legislation 1793-1867 (for Queensland); Lands legislation 1833 - 1910 (for Queensland); Criminal Code 1899 Queensland : preparatory and extrinsic materials; Letters Patent establishing the boundaries of Queensland (includes Proclamations, Legislative Assembly resolutions, maps etc); Public Acts of Queensland 1828-1936; Local Personal & Private Acts of Queensland 1828-1936
The term legislation refers to Acts of Parliament. The term delegated legislation refers to regulations and rules created pursuant to an Act of Parliament. Both types of legislation, and associated documents, are published in hard-copy and are available online.
There are different types of legislation:
Bills - proposed Acts. A Bill becomes an Act only after it is passed by Parliament and receives Royal Assent. Always check section 2 of an Act to see when it comes into force.
Principal Acts are the original Act passed by a Parliament.
Amending Acts make changes to the principal Act. Such an Act should be read together with the Principal Act.
Reprinted Acts incorporate all the changes that have been made to the original Act by subsequent amending Acts. They are current up to the date specified on the reprint. This term is commonly used for printed version of legislation.
Consolidated Acts also incorporate all the changes made to the principal Act by amendments. This term is commonly used for electronic versions of legislation.
Repealed Acts have been superceded by more recent Acts. They may be of historical interest.
Delegated or subordinate legislation such as regulations or by-laws. These allow other authorities to administer relevant rules and regulations in a particular area.
There are two main sources of information available to the researcher seeking more information about a piece of legislation.
Secondary sources, such as legal journal articles and legal encyclopaedias can provide useful commentary and analysis.
The other main source are legislative documents. These documents, created as part of the law making process, can be very useful when trying to interpret and understand a piece of legislation. These documents include:
Explanatory memorandum - a clause by clause guide to a Bill. (Sometimes called explanatory notes).
Second reading speech – At the second reading stage the Member of Parliament responsible for the Bill gives a formal speech which outlines the intent of the bill. The speech, reported in Hansard, can be used assist in the interpretation of the legislation.
Bills Digest – A brief background report on Bills introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament that is prepared by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library.
Parliamentary committees - These exist at both the federal and state level. They conduct inquiries and frequently have Bills referred to them. Their reports are available on government websites and are sometimes linked to from legislation databases and websites.
If you know the title of your Act use the resources below to find a current full-text copy.
Note: These examples only deal with current, Principal Acts (also known as Reprints), i.e. Acts that have had amendments incorporated.
Q: Find a current copy of the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth)
Select Acts from the top of the page > Current > Navigate to Ev (OR in the Filter by Title box type evidence and select Apply Filter) > Scroll down and select the title Evidence Act 1995.
Note: The blue Australia icon indicates that this is an authorised version of the Act.
View the Act online or select the Download tab to save a PDF or Word version.
Tip: Make sure you check the currency statement at the top of the page and take note of any unincorporated amendments.
If you don't know the title of an Act or need to find legislation on a topic, use the resources below.
Q. What federal legislation deals with the cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians?
Select Browse by Subject Area > Indigenous Australians > Cultural Heritage > there are 3 results - two Principal Act and the Regulations relating to one of the Acts.
Select Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 > select Current Consolidation to view the full-text or download a PDF of the Act.
Tip: If you need to know more about what is and isn't included in a subject area click the 'I' button next to a heading.