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Legislation: What is Legislation?

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

What is legislation?


Legislation, also known as Statutes or Acts of Parliament, is the written law created by Parliament. It is one of the two primary sources of the Law (the other being 'Case Law' - the decisions made by courts).

How legislation is made



1. Legislation begins in draft form as a 'Bill' introduced into Parliament

A Bill is always introduced by a Member of Parliament, who gives a speech describing the intent of the proposed law and why it is necessary. This is called the Second Reading Speech.

Bills are often accompanied by Explanatory Materials, which explain in detail what the proposed law is meant to do.

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A Bill's second reading speech and explanatory materials are very useful for understanding the purpose of an Act.


2. A Bill is then debated and voted on in the Parliament

After the second reading speech, a Bill is discussed in the parliament and may eventually be voted on. The speech, discussions and votes are called Parliamentary Debates and are recorded in Hansard. Each parliamentary chamber in Australia has its own Hansard, which can be searched online.

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Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) are another useful source of information if you are trying to understand what an Act is supposed to achieve, and if there were any potential negative aspects, particularly if an Act is controversial in some sense.

The Commonwealth and State Parliaments (except Queensland) have two Chambers or Houses of Parliament, and a Bill must be introduced to, and pass a vote in, each chamber before it can become an Act.


3. Once a Bill has passed through Parliament it receives the royal assent and becomes an Act

The Commonwealth Governor-General or State Governor signs the Bill on behalf of the Sovereign (ie the reigning King or Queen of the United Kingdom, who is also King or Queen of Australia). This is called giving the Bill the royal assent. Only at this point does a Bill become an Act of Parliament.


4. An Act only takes legal effect from its commencement date

This date is sometimes specified within an Act, and sometimes left for the Government to decide by proclamation in the relevant Government Gazette. Information about commencement is normally found in section 2 of an Act, and also in Endnote 3 or in one of the tables associated with the Act on the relevant legislation website.

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  • Do not confuse the commencement date of an Act with its royal assent date. Sometimes the dates of these two events can be the same, but not usually.
  • It is quite common for different provisions of an Act to have different commencement dates.


Here are some links explaining the entire process:

How legislation is changed


Legislation often changes over time, and is occasionally repealed altogether. This is done by amending legislation.

An amending Act needs to be introduced into Parliament as a Bill, and be passed, just like any other Act. An exception is delegated legislation (see next section) which can be created and changed without requiring parliamentary approval.

The resources listed in this guide allow you to track the different historical versions of legislation over time.

The resources provide lists of the relevant amending legislation, and you can also look up specific provisions of each Act to see how and when it has been changed by the amending legislation.

Delegated legislation


Laws deal with complex, dynamic matters. Instead of providing very specific details on how they should be enforced, an Act may only provide a broad, general framework.

For specific details, an Act may delegate the responsibility to a government minister, executive office-holder or government department. 

The responsible entity may then create delegated legislation (in the form of regulations, standards, rules, determinations, ordinances etc) to provide greater clarity on when, how and where that Act should be enforced. These instruments have the same power and force as any other law. 

Note that, depending on the jurisdiction, delegated legislation is also known as:

  • Legislative Instruments (Federal)
  • Statutory Instruments (ACT, NSW, QLD)
  • Subordinate Legislation (VIC)
  • Subsidiary Legislation (WA, NT)
  • Statutory Rules (TAS)

The creation and use of delegated legislation is efficient, because:

  • the operational details of an Act do not have to be debated in parliament but can be determined later in the form of delegated legislation,

  • delegated legislation does not need to be passed by parliament,

  • delegated legislation can easily be changed by the relevant minister or the government department - without requiring an amending Act to be passed by the Parliament.

To compensate for the lack of parliamentary scrutiny, most delegated legislation automatically expires, or must be renewed, after ten years for the Commonwealth and five years for NSW (this is called 'sunsetting'). Also, either parliamentary chamber may vote to disallow delegated legislation within certain time limits, in which case the delegated legislation ceases to have any force.

Delegated legislation can be found using the relevant legislation registries, parliamentary websites and law databases mentioned in this guide.