Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Australia: Bill to Improve Ability to Understand Legislation Introduced

(May 20, 2011) On May 12, 2011, the Australian Attorney-General introduced the Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011 into Parliament. (Press Release, Hon. Robert McClelland, Acts Interpretation Amendment to Make Legislation More Accessible (May 12, 2011).)

This bill will amend the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, which sets out the overarching rules for interpreting all Australian federal legislation. As stated by Australia's first Attorney-General during the passage of the original Act in 1901, the Act:

is a measure providing for the simplification of the language of Acts of Parliament and the shortening of their terminology. It constitutes in a sense a legal dictionary, particular meanings being assigned by it to particular phrases, which must be used over and over again in almost every Act of Parliament. (Speech, Hon. Alfred Deakin, Second Reading of the Acts Interpretation Bill 1901, quoted in Parliament of Australia, Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011 – Explanatory Memorandum (last visited May 17, 2011).)

Although there have been several amendments to the Act over the years, the bill will result in the most comprehensive review of the Act in over a hundred years. (Press Release, supra.) It implements recommendations made in past reviews and advances aspects of the federal government's work to improve the accessibility of the civil justice system, as set out in the Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in the Federal Civil Justice System. (Explanatory Memorandum, supra.)

The bill updates a range of concepts and language in order to modernize the legislation. The bill will also restructure the Act with the aim of making important rules and definitions, which are currently scattered throughout the Act or otherwise not in logical order, easier to find. It will also introduce several new general rules and definitions that will therefore not need to be repeated in other acts, enabling them to be shorter in length. (Id.)

The Attorney-General said that the bill “is a major step towards reducing the complexity of Commonwealth legislation. The measures contained in this Bill will assist in making the law more accessible and easier to understand.” (Press Release, supra.)

Examples of the amendments included in the bill are:

· allowing meeting participants to be in different locations and to participate using technology such as video-conferencing;

· changing the definition of “document” so that it includes “a map, plan, drawing or photograph” – the changes will address apparent inconsistencies in the current definition and bring it into line with other legislation, such as the Evidence Act 1995;

· removing reference to territories administered by Australia under a Trusteeship Agreement, because Australia no longer administers any such territories;

· changing the definition of “Australian citizen” so that it is consistent across all laws;

· cross-referencing to the Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973 in relation to the definitions of “continental shelf,” “exclusive economic zone,” and “contiguous zone”;

· providing greater legal certainty in relation to the meaning of “calendar month” and “month”; and

· removing references to “the King” in different sections in the Act, and changing this to “Sovereign” where necessary. (Explanatory Memorandum, supra.)