This website will be progressively updated as the final outcome of the election of 2 July is known, and as the 45th Parliament meets.

Quick Answers

Bills and law

What is a bill?

In Parliament, a bill is a proposal for a new law or a change to an existing one. Generally, bills aim to improve something or fix a problem. Most bills are introduced into the Parliament by government ministers and are then debated and voted on in both chambers.

More information: Fact Sheet – Bills and Laws

How does a bill become a law?

A bill becomes a law after it has been passed in the same form by both houses of Parliament and is signed by the Governor-General. It is then called an Act of Parliament. For a bill to be passed, it must be agreed to by a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  A bill may also be sent to a parliamentary committee for further investigation before being voted on by the Parliament.

If members of parliament agree on a bill, it may only take a couple of days to be passed through the Parliament. However, the process may take weeks or even months if there is a lot of debate and disagreement. An example of such a bill was the Native Title Amendment Bill 1996. It was introduced to the Parliament on 4 September 1997 and finalised on 27 July 1998, taking 10 months and 24 days to become a law.

More information: Fact Sheet – Making a Law

What is a law?

Laws are rules that help manage our society; they define how people and organisations are expected to behave. In Australia, the federal Parliament is responsible for making and changing laws about national issues such as defence, immigration and pensions. The Parliament aims to make laws that reflect the needs of the community. The government puts laws into action.

More information: Fact Sheet – Bills and Laws

What is the rule of law?

The principle of the rule of law is that no person or group, including the government, is above the law. In Australia, this means that:

  • all Australians are equal before the law and must obey the law
  • the law should be clear and fair so that people and authorities can understand and obey it
  • the law should protect the rights and freedoms of people.

More information: Fact Sheet – Bills and Laws

What is an amendment?

In Parliament, an amendment is a change to a bill (proposed law). Amendments are often suggested to alter or strengthen a bill during the process of making a law. The most common time for suggesting an amendment is during a stage called consideration in detail in the House of Representatives or during committee of the whole in the Senate.

More information: Fact Sheet – Amendments

What is a parliamentary committee?

The Parliament can establish a committee or refer a matter to a committee for investigation. Often committees examine bills (proposed laws) or issues of concern to the community.

The information collected by a committee can help the Parliament make better-informed decisions. This information can include advice and ideas from experts and interest groups as well as the views of members of the public.

A parliamentary committee usually consists of six to ten members, including government and non-government representatives. A committee can be set up by:

  • the Senate, comprising only senators, known as a Senate committee
  • the House of Representatives, comprising only members of the House of Representatives, known as a House of Representatives committee
  • both houses of Parliament together, comprising senators and members, known as a joint committee.

More information: Fact Sheet – Parliamentary Committees

What are Senate estimates hearings?

Senate estimates hearings are usually held three times a year to examine government spending. Estimates hearings are part of the Senate committee process. The only people who give evidence at estimates hearings are ministers, staff of government departments and representatives from organisations that receive government funding.

More information: Fact Sheet – Senate Estimates

What is the Budget?

Each year the federal government must show how it plans to collect and spend money. They do this by presenting a set of bills (proposed laws) to the Parliament. This set of bills, along with a speech made by the Treasurer, is known as the Budget. The Budget explains what issues the government wants to address, such as increasing funding for services, announcing new projects or making savings through more efficient use of money.

More information: Fact Sheet – Budget

What are Australia's three levels of law-making?

Australia has three levels of law-making, sometimes called the three levels of government:

  • the federal Parliament
  • state and territory parliaments
  • local councils.

Each level has responsibility for making laws about different things. Australia's federal Parliament is based in the national capital, Canberra. State and territory parliaments are located in each state or territory's capital city. There are also more than 560 local councils all around Australia.

More information: Fact Sheet – Three Levels of Law-Making

What can the federal Parliament make laws about?

Section 51 of the Australian Constitution lists the things that the federal Parliament can make laws about, including:

  • taxation, finance and banking
  • foreign affairs, immigration and trade
  • defence
  • marriage and divorce
  • corporations
  • currency, weights and measures
  • pensions
  • post and telecommunications.

The federal Parliament shares some responsibility and power with state or territory parliaments. However, if a state law conflicts with a federal law, section 109 of the Constitution says that the federal law overrides the state law to the extent of the inconsistency. Section 122 of the Constitution allows the federal Parliament to override a territory law at any time.

More information: Fact Sheet – Three Levels of Law-Making

What can state and territory parliaments make laws about?

Each state and territory parliament has specific law-making responsibilities, in relation to things such as:

  • hospitals
  • schools
  • police
  • public transport, roads and motor registration
  • wildlife protection
  • tourism
  • emergency services.

State and territory parliaments share some responsibilities with the federal Parliament. However, if a state law conflicts with a federal law, section 109 of the Australian Constitution says that the federal law overrides the state law to the extent of the inconsistency. Section 122 of the Constitution allows the federal Parliament to override a territory law at any time.

More information: Fact Sheet – Three Levels of Law-Making

What can local councils make laws about?

Australia's states and the Northern Territory delegate some law-making responsibility to local councils.  Councils are also called shires or municipalities. They can make by-laws about a variety of local issues, such as:

  • rubbish collection
  • animal control
  • libraries
  • street signs
  • building permits
  • footpaths and drains
  • traffic control.

In the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) there are no local councils; local and territory issues are both handled by the ACT Legislative Assembly.

More information: Fact Sheet – Three Levels of Law-Making

What role do the courts play in Australia?

In Australia, the power to govern is divided between the Parliament, the Executive and the courts. The courts exercise judicial power, which means they interpret and apply laws, including those made by parliaments (known as statute law). If the meaning of a law is unclear, courts may determine what is intended by the law. Courts also hear cases in which laws have allegedly been broken.

The High Court is the highest court in Australia; it interprets and decides cases about the Australian Constitution.

More information: Fact Sheet – Separation of Powers: Parliament, Executive and Judiciary