How laws are created
An Act is a specific body of law passed by the Parliament and given royal assent. Both the federal and state governments pass laws. The subject matter about which each can legislate is set out by the Australian Constitution.
A proposed body of law is introduced into the Parliament as a Bill. To become law a Bill must be passed by majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and must then receive royal assent. The states have a similar process in their parliaments.
Proclamations of Acts which have received royal assent are published in the Government Gazette. Acts are given a formal title and numbered e.g. the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) is Act No. 53 of 1975.
Sources which explain the intention of legislation
In the Federal Parliament a Bill has three reading speeches in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The 'First Reading' speech involves the provision of brief information about the title and purpose of the proposed law. During a 'Second Reading'of a Bill there is debate and amendments may be proposed.
Reading speeches are recorded in documents called Hansard. Hansard contains excellent sources of material for students on the background to the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975.
An explanatory memorandum is a document which explains the aim or operation of the proposed body of law. These documents are usually issued by the Parliamentary member responsible for the introduction of the Bill into Parliament. This document may be used to ascertain the meaning of a specific provision of an Act if it is unclear.
An Act may be amended. A 'reprint' or 'consolidation' may then be issued which incorporates the new amendments. The availability of legislation in electronic formats has greatly enhanced the capacity to access current versions of an Act but you should be careful to check that the version you are looking at does contain the latest amendments.
Judgments of courts are a primary source of information about how a law is interpreted by the Courts and applied in particular factual situations.
In an Act the Parliament may delegate authority to the Executive arm of government (the Governor-General in Council i.e. with Ministers) or Head of a Department, to make Rules, Regulations and By-Laws connected with the Act. This is usually termed 'delegated' or 'subordinate' legislation.
Documents similar to explanatory memoranda are also issued for delegated legislation such as Regulations and Rules. These documents are known as Explanatory Statements.
Before starting to search for Australian laws you need to identify whether you are looking for Commonwealth legislation or State and Territory legislation.
Within Australian family law most of the legislation you will require will be Commonwealth but this is not always the case. Some state law can be applicable depending on the issues involved, for example property settlements between couples in a de facto relationship, equality of status of ex-nuptial children, family provision from a testator's estate.
Legislation is usually available in print and electronic form. Sources however, may vary depending on whether you want a print version or an electronic version, whether it is Commonwealth of State legislation or because of the type of legislation.
Print versions of legislation can be obtained from relevant government bookshops.
Links to Commonwealth legislation websites
If you are looking for State or Territory legislation in printed form you should contact your state government information centre or bookshop.
The following are sites where you can find Commonwealth legislation on the Internet at no cost. When searching for legislation on these sites read their instructions carefully. Also read the disclaimers about the information they provide.
Note: the following website links will open in a new window
Parliament of Australia
Access to the Hansards -Information on Bills before Parliament and their progress. The FAQ page is a good starting point for those who have not used the site before.
Federal Register of Legislation
The Federal Register of Legislation has the most complete and up-to-date collection of Commonwealth legislation available.
Australian Law Online
Australian Law Online operates primarily as a gateway. It directs users to law and justice related information and services that are provided by government and selected non-government organisations.
Provides links to the full text of Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation, parliamentary material, international treaties and the laws of other countries.
The ACT Legislation Register contains authorised current consolidations of ACT Acts, regulations and subordinate instruments.
The NSW Parliamentary Counsel's Office provides an authoritative, up-to-date source for NSW Legislation. The site includes NSW Acts, subordinate legislation, and status information as well as Repealed versions of legislation.
Northern Territory Legislation
This database contains all the current consolidated Acts and subordinate legislation of the Northern Territory of Australia.
The Queensland Parliamentary Counsel provides an authoritative source for Queensland Legislation. The site provides consolidated and numbered Acts as well as superseded versions.
South Australian Legislation
Parliament of SA site. The Acts and Regulations of the Government of South Australia are available here.
The Tasmanian Legislation WebSite provides access to Tasmanian legislation. Acts that were in force as at 1 February 1997 are available in consolidated form and Acts passed after 1 February 1997 are available in sessional and consolidated form.
The Victorian Legislation WebSite provides access to Bills under consideration. Victorian Acts and Statutory Rules as passed or made by year as well as all consolidated Principal Victorian Acts and Statutory Rules as in force, at a given point in time.
Western Australian Legislation
The Western Australian Legislation database is a compilation of the public general Acts of Western Australia that are in force, with certain exceptions.
For purchase of legislation (including subscriptions and standing order alert services), contact Canprint Information Services.