19 Parliamentary Documents

Several important documents are produced during the law-making process including the Bill, the explanatory note or memorandum, and the explanatory or second reading speech.


Some of the most significant documents produced by Parliament are Bills. A Bill is a proposed Act and the principal means by which government policy becomes law. Nowadays, the majority of Bills are drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and then debated and considered in detail in Parliament before they are passed and become law.

Bills have clauses instead of sections or provisions.

Bills are usually introduced by the government of the day, however, non-government Bills may be introduced in the form of Private Members’ Bills. More information about Private Members’ Bills is available in House of Representatives Practice.

Extrinsic material

Interpretive materials such as explanatory memoranda or notes and parliamentary speeches are useful when researching the intent of the legislation and fleshing out the purpose and finer details of statutes. These materials are referred to as extrinsic material because although they are aids in statutory interpretation, they are not part of the Act.

Explanatory note or memorandum

The explanatory note or memorandum describes the purpose of the Bill and provides an explanation of each clause in plain English. These memoranda or notes can be useful in interpreting legislation and may also be examined by courts when considering legislation. Most common law jurisdictions use the term explanatory memoranda while others use explanatory notes to describe these kinds of documents.

Historical explanatory memoranda

Not all Bills will have an associated explanatory statement (particularly older Bills).  For more information refer to Was there an EM?: Explanatory Memoranda and Explanatory Statements in the Commonwealth Parliament for historical Commonwealth explanatory memoranda in Australian states and territories.

Parliamentary speeches

A Bill will generally be the subject of several parliamentary speeches, the most significant of which is the explanatory speech given by the Minister in charge of the Bill. In this speech, the Minister outlines the policy behind the Bill and what it seeks to achieve. These speeches can therefore help you understand why a Bill has been introduced.

In most jurisdictions this speech is referred to as a second reading speech because it occurs on the second reading of the Bill.

Accessing parliamentary documents

Most common law jurisdictions have a parliamentary website that you can use to access a full range of parliamentary documents.


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Legal Research Skills: An Australian Law Guide: 2024 JCU Edition Copyright © 2024 by James Cook University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.