House of Representatives

Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011

Second Reading Speech

Mr McClelland (Attorney-General)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill amends the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 to improve its structure, language and application to modern technology.

The Acts Interpretation Act is the statute most commonly referred to in the Commonwealth statute book. It is a vital resource for judges, lawyers and parliamentarians to interpret Commonwealth legislation. This is the first time it has been comprehensively amended since its enactment in 1901.

Former High Court Chief Justice Gleeson aptly summarised the main purposes of this act, as well as interpretation acts in general when he said:

For drafting convenience, they set out certain ground rules ... [which] save unnecessary repetition and explanation ... Parliament enacts legislation upon an assumption that the meaning of what it says will be understood in accordance with those general rules. Interpretation Acts [also] set out the working assumptions according to which legislation is framed by Parliament, and applied by the courts ...

What the Bill does

The main purpose of this bill is to restructure the Acts Interpretation Act to make the important rules and definitions contained within it much easier to find. For example, the part 2 proposed in this bill brings together the majority of definitions that are currently scattered throughout the act. Terms such as 'document', 'Government printer' and 'Proclamation' will now be collocated and listed in alphabetical order.

The bill also updates the act to bring it into the 21st century. For example, it amends the provisions about meetings so that participants can be in different locations and can dial-in using technology such as Skype and video-conferencing. This reflects the exponential advances in technology that have been achieved over the past 110 years.

Drafting practices have also evolved. The bill reflects this by clarifying that all material in an act, from the first section to the last schedule, is part of an act. This takes account of current practice of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to include section headings and explanatory notes as part of bills introduced into the parliament. Formerly, these were added later by the Government Printer.

Including rules and definitions in the Acts Interpretation Act means they do not need to be repeated in other commonwealth acts. This reduces the size of the Commonwealth statute book. Most Commonwealth acts contain references to the Acts Interpretation Act so that readers are aware of and can easily find the definitions and rules that apply to the relevant provisions of legislation.


This is consistent with the government's commitment to improving the accessibility of the civil justice system. Modernisation of one of the first commonwealth acts will help to reduce the complexity of legislation that has developed since Federation.

I would like to thank the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for the significant time and effort that went into preparing this bill. In addition to the substantial amount of drafting undertaken, a number of drafters were also involved in testing the workability of new definitions and rules to make sure they would operate as intended, by testing their application to bills they had recently drafted.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.