One of the most significant roles of the Australian Parliament is to make laws for Australia (see Bills and Laws); however, there are times when the Parliament gives the power to make decisions about the details of these laws to the relevant government minister, executive office-holder or government department. Law that is made in this way is known as delegated law, or secondary legislation.
Laws made by the Australian Parliament usually involve wide-ranging, complex issues that affect many Australians, such as taxation or the environment. These laws provide a general framework rather than the specific detail of when, where and how the rules might be applied.
Delegated law allows the specific details of these primary, or existing, laws – such as regulations, standards and other requirements – to be made or changed without having to be debated and passed by the Parliament.
Because delegated law is not required to be passed directly by both houses of Parliament, it can often mean amendments, or changes, to an existing law can be made in a shorter period of time, and by those responsible for the particular area it covers. For example, the Minister for the Environment might set standards and regulations about Australia’s national parks, or the Minister for Immigration may set the specific requirement for visas that let people into Australia.
Delegated law has the same power and force as any other law in Australia. However:
- delegated law can only be made in relation to a primary law that has been passed by the Australian Parliament
- the Parliament usually retains the right to overrule, or disallow, delegated law if it does not agree with it. Each delegated law must be listed on a public register and presented to the Parliament within six sitting days of being made. During the next 15 sitting days, any member of parliament can propose that the Senate or the House of Representatives overrule the delegated law. The Senate or the House of Representatives then has a further 15 sitting days to discuss whether to do this. If no decision is made, the delegated law is overruled.
Delegated law is also scrutinised by the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. This committee has been in existence since 1932 and ensures that delegated law:
- is in agreement with the existing law
- does not interfere unnecessarily with personal rights and liberties
- allows the possibility of review by a court or independent body
- does not contain content more appropriate for a new law.
The committee can also recommend to the Senate that delegated law be overruled.