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Legislation: Explanatory Materials and Second Reading Speeches

This guide contains resources and guidance to help students to find and interpret Legislation.

Explanatory materials


Sometimes you will need more than just the text of an Act: you need to understand what it was meant to achieve; or what issue it was meant to address.

One way of doing this is to read the explanatory materials that usually accompany a Bill when it is introduced into parliament. All jurisdictions except South Australia use explanatory materials.

Explanatory materials are also known as:

  • Explanatory Memorandum (Cth, Vic)
  • Explanatory Notes (NSW, Qld, WA)
  • Fact Sheets (Tas)

They outline exactly what each clause of the Bill is meant to achieve, and what its effect would be if enacted.

Explanatory materials can be found with the relevant Bills in the official legislation websites, which are listed on our Searching Australian legislation page.

You'll also find them in the LawOne database when you look up an Act and select the Key Info button.

Second reading speeches


Another useful source is the Second Reading Speech, and any Parliamentary Debates relating to the Bill.

The second reading speech is given by the Member of Parliament who introduces the Bill, and it outlines why the proposed law is important and necessary: what positive things will result, or what negative things will be prevented. Most Bills are introduced by the government, so second reading speeches normally give the government’s viewpoint.

The ensuing debates give the viewpoint of the opposition and cross-bench members. Amendments to a Bill can be proposed and are sometimes accepted. All this discussion is helpful for understanding what a piece of legislation is supposed to do, and what potential flaws it might have.

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Second reading speeches (as well as explanatory materials) can be found in:

  • Parliament websites
  • LawOne - for Bills introduced from 1998 onwards
  • Lexis Advance Pacific - for Bills introduced from 1995 onwards
  • Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) - see next section

Searching databases for legislative materials

In LawOne, the Key Info button provides a comprehensive legislative picture, showing the entire legislative path from Bill to the latest version of the Act, along with explanatory materials, second reading speeches, and cases where the provisions of the Act have been considered.

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  • Browsing using the alphabetical list is more effective than searching.

  • While browsing in LawOne, make sure you choose the jurisdiction first, and then choose the type of document you are looking for (Acts: Current/Repealed, Regulations, Bills etc).

  • As obvious as it may sound, if you are looking for current Acts, look under Current, and if you are looking for repealed Acts, look under Repealed

  • Amending Acts are often found in the Repealed section, since many amending Acts are deemed to have self-repealed once they have done the job of amending their principal Act.

  • Some older legislation (generally pre-1998) does not have a link to the Second Reading Speeches in LawOne. In this case you will need to look up the Second Reading Speech in the appropriate Hansard.

Lexis Advance Pacific provides an individual login, allowing you to easily save content for later and organise your research.

It also offers strong links to Case Law and Secondary materials using the Legislation Citator, allowing you to see the whole picture with only a few clicks.

Also provides links to Second Reading Speeches.

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  • Use Advanced Search > Legislation for more specific search options.

  • Limit your search using the filters on the left, i.e. Content Type and Jurisdiction.

  • The Legislation Citator feature is normally more useful at the provision level.

  • Explanatory Materials or Second Reading Speeches are accessible from Bills.

  • Some older legislation (generally pre-1995) does not have a link to the Second Reading Speeches in Lexis Advance. In situations like this, you will need to look up the Second Reading Speech in the appropriate Hansard.

AustLII is a freely available legal database. The NoteUp References feature provides links to related cases and journal articles.

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  • The best way to search AustLII is by browsing using the alphabetical index.

  • Use Ctrl+F (or Cmd+F in a Mac) to search the page for the title of the Act if the alphabetical list is too long.

  • NoteUp References is available at the provision level, which is helpful to find cases and articles specific to a particular provision.