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House Of Representatives

Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011

Explanatory Memorandum

(Circulated by authority of the Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert McClelland MP)

General Outline

1. This Bill amends the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 ('Acts Interpretation Act'), an important Commonwealth Act that provides general rules for interpreting all Commonwealth legislation. As Australia's first Attorney-General, Alfred Deakin, said on the second reading of the Acts Interpretation Bill on 6 June 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.

2. The Bill progresses the implementation of the clearer laws elements of the Government's Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in the Federal Civil Justice System . The amendments address the useability and readability of the Acts Interpretation Act, resulting in clearer legislation and appropriately co-located provisions. While the Acts Interpretation Act has been subject to numerous amendments since 1901, this is the first time the Act has been comprehensively amended to address concerns regarding its structure, application to modern technology and language.

3. The Bill also implements recommendations made following past reviews of the Acts Interpretation Act.

4. In 1993 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs published a report on the drafting of Commonwealth legislation titled Clearer Commonwealth Law . One of the Committee's recommendations was that the Attorney-General's Department and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel should publicly review and rewrite the Acts Interpretation Act (see recommendation 22).

5. In response, the Attorney-General's Department and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel jointly issued a discussion paper entitled Review of the Commonwealth Acts Interpretation Act 1901 in 1998. Following consultation on the discussion paper, a number of recommendations were made about how to improve the useability and readability of the Acts Interpretation Act.

6. In summary, the Bill improves the structure of the Acts Interpretation Act by:

co-locating the definitions which are currently scattered throughout the Act, and
co-locating other provisions that are currently not in a logical order.

7. The Bill also contains a number of substantive amendments. For example:

ensuring that powers in relation to instruments apply to all types of instruments (contrary to some judicial interpretation that suggests they only apply to instruments of a legislative character)
allowing section 19B and 19BA Orders to apply retrospectively (these Orders update references in legislation to a particular Minister, Department or Secretary of a Department so that they can be read consistently with responsibilities as allocated under the Administrative Arrangements Order)
providing that an action by a Minister other than the Minister who is authorised to perform that action is not invalid merely on that basis
providing that anything done by or in relation to a person purporting to act under an appointment (including an acting appointment) is not invalid merely because the occasion for the appointment had not arisen, there was a defect or irregularity in connection with the appointment, the appointment had ceased to have effect or, in the case of acting appointments, the occasion to act had not arisen or had ceased, and
specifying that everything in an Act as enacted by the Parliament should be considered part of an Act.

8. Concepts in the original Act are being modernised so that it can continue to be relevant into the 21st century. For example:

allowing meeting participants to be in different locations and to participate using technology such as video-conferencing, and
adjusting the definition of 'document' to include things like maps, plans, drawings and photographs.

9. This Bill will result in significant improvements to the Acts Interpretation Act as well as improving the clarity of Commonwealth legislation more generally.

Financial impact statement

10. The proposed Bill will not have any significant financial impact.

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