Acts are laws formally passed by Parliament and that have received royal assent by the Crown. Royal Assent is granted on behalf of the Crown by the Governor or Governor-General. Sometimes Acts are referred to as Statutes.
Anatomy of an Act
The structure of most Acts is consistent across jurisdictions, starting with a preliminary section, and separated into parts, divisions, and sections. As an example, the image below shows the preliminary part of the printed copy of the Jobs Queensland Act 2015 (Qld).
The preliminary section of an Act generally follows the format set out in the example and provides useful information about the Act. It will often have a definitions or interpretations section.
Jurisdiction — this will be readily apparent on the front page of the Act.
Act number — most Parliaments have a numbering system based on the calendar year. This Act is the 23rd Act of 2015.
Long title — although you would not generally cite a modern Act by its long title, long titles can be helpful for the purposes of statutory interpretation as they explain the Act’s purpose.
Short title — this is the name of the Act together with the year it was passed
Commencement date — Usually found in section 2 and provides information about when the Act commences. This is discussed in greater detail below.
Date of Royal Assent — this is generally published on the title page of the Act when it is passed.
Acts will not come into force until the commencement date or ‘date of operation’. Sometimes different sections of an Act commence at different times. Each jurisdiction in Australia has legislation which helps with the interpretation of the Act ie. Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth), Interpretation Act 1987 (NSW), Legislation Act 2001 (ACT) etc. It is important to check the relevant legislation for specific commencement advice relevant to the specific jurisdiction.
Commencement information is often found in the Act itself, in section 2. Sometimes, this could be a general statement rather than a specific date, stating that the Act will commence:
- upon receiving Royal Assent from the Governor or Governor-General
- on a specified date
- on a date to be proclaimed (in the future, notified in Government Gazettes)
- in relation to another piece of legislation
- the default date of 28 days after receiving Royal Assent.
One of the easiest ways to locate the commencement date is to locate the legislative history for the Act. This may be located in the Endnotes or Notes section of the latest version of the Act, or there may be a legislative history page linked to from the Act homepage.
During the currency of an Act, it may be changed by amending Acts passed by Parliament. When a version of an Act is produced that incorporates these changes it is referred to in various ways:
It is important to know how up-to-date an Act is when you are using it. Check for a date on the front page of the Act that claims:
- ‘This compilation was prepared on…‘
- ‘Current as at…‘
If some time has passed since the compilation was prepared, amendments might have been made to the Act that have not yet been incorporated into the version to which you are referring.
Acts as passed or Numbered Acts are Acts in their original form. That is, as they were passed in the Parliament.
Amending Act is a statute that alters the operation of an earlier Act through substitution, insertion, omission or repealing.
Reprint or Compilation incorporates all amendments to the Numbered Act.
Consolidating Act is a statute that combines all the Acts in force relating to a particular subject area.
Repealed or Ceased Acts are no longer enforced as law.