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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2797


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (10:24): My understanding is that the Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011 is a bill to modernise and reorder the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 and to make certain amendments to clarify potential ambiguities. The bill seeks to achieve those objectives by co-locating the definitions currently scattered throughout the act, placing the act's pro­visions in a more logical 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 and inserting a new section to confirm for the avoidance of doubt that the common law de facto officer doctrine applies. This will ensure that, if an officer has been invalidly appointed, acts performed by the officer in that position are not automatically invalidated. This doctrine was affirmed by the High Court in Cassell v The Queen (2000). The bill specifies that everything in an act that is enacted by the parliament should be considered part of an act, allowing meeting participants to be in different locations and to participate using technology such as videoconferencing. Lastly, it adjusts the definition of 'document' to include things like maps, plans, drawings and photographs.

My learned colleague Senator Brandis advises me that 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. 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 to improve the usability and readability of the Acts Interpretation Act.

As is clear from the history, the amendments to this legislation have been a bipartisan project over several years and several governments. The act is an important part of the machinery of Commonwealth legislation to which recourse will often be had when seeking to resolve ambiguities or divine the technical meanings of acts and regulations. Accordingly, the coalition supports the bill.