SA Introduces New Legislation Interpretation Bill 2021

Sunday 16 May 2021 @ 12.40 p.m. | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

The Legislation Interpretation Bill 2021 (SA) ("the Bill") was introduced into the South Australian Legislative Council on 6 May 2021 by Treasurer Rob Lucas. The Bill proposes a new Act to provide the general rules for the interpretation of South Australian Acts and legislative instruments. It will also contain definitions for certain terms used in Acts and legislative instruments. The Bill also seeks to repeal the Acts Interpretation Act 1915 (SA) ("the Acts Interpretation Act") and make additional amendments to various other Acts.

Objectives of the Bill

The Acts Interpretation Act was first enacted over 100 years ago and sets out the rules for interpreting Acts and legislative instruments. It contains provisions that clarify how Acts and legislative instruments are to operate and have effect. The Acts Interpretation Act also contains a dictionary that applies to the entire South Australian statute book and defines the services and penalties that apply across all Acts and legislative instruments. Since its introduction, the Acts Interpretation Act has been amended many times in a "piecemeal way", as described by the Treasurer in his second reading speech.

The Bill was introduced as a result of a review of the Acts Interpretation Act, conducted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel ("OPC"). The review identified anomalies, outdated provisions, and opportunities for harmonisation. Generally, the Bill proposes improvements to the order and layout of the provisions. The Bill also suggests the migration of certain provisions into more appropriate Acts, and the introduction of new provisions that reflect current developments in statutory law and society.

The Treasurer notes in his second reading speech that the Bill's memorandum contains an explanation of clauses that is much more detailed in nature than what is usual practice, in order to:

"assist the legal profession and others in the future interpretation of this bill and to ensure that the intention behind any of the changes that have been made is very clear."

The Bill's explanation of clauses identifies the parts of the Bill which mirror the current Acts Interpretation Act, and those which contains substantial changes. 

Proposed Changes under the Bill

Clause 8 of the Bill proposes changes to how terms referring to records are to be interpreted to include digital material. Currently, the Acts Interpretation Act merely extends the interpretation of terms that traditionally refers to hard copy or analog material to include digital material.

Clause 8 seeks to replace current definitions with a provision that aims:

". . . to provide a more complete coverage of the topic by stating the principle that, if any type of information or material is capable of being produced in digital form, a word that describes the information or material in its physical form includes a reference to the information or material in its digital form. The clause then uses the currently defined terms as examples of this general principle. The clause also deals with the interpretation of legislative requirements to produce, or make available for inspection, information or a document in cases where the information or document is kept in digital form."

Clause 9 the Bill seeks to amend interpretation of words that relate to gender. The new provisions would update current provisions within section 26 of the Acts Interpretation Act, to include individuals who do not identify as having any particular gender.

Clause 18 of the Bill proposes a change how legislation is interpreted under the new Act, in which everything within an Act or legislative instrument, forms that piece of legislation. The exception to this being editorial notes, legislative history, and appendices that are present for reference only. Under the current Acts Interpretation Act, section headings, notes, and content lists are determined to be not part of a piece of legislation. The Treasurer notes in his second reading speech, that this is the "most significant change proposed by the Bill".

In order to mitigate any risk that may arise as a result of these proposed changes, a savings provision has also been put forwards, in order to administratively amend section headings and the like. The amendments would be undertaken by or under the supervision of the Commissioner for Legislation Revision and Publication. This would ensure administrative correction of any errors, without the need to undertake legislative amendments.

Part 9 of the Bill contains the proposed schedule of divisional penalties with updates to reflect the current scale that is used for penalties that have a monetary value to update a number of older Acts that use divisional penalties rather than a monetary amount. 

Clause 39 of the Bill seeks to introduce a new type of provision, which would allow for certain meetings to be held remotely. It also contains a new definition of "gazette", which would allow for electronic publication. These amendments are to "reflect changes in society to an increased reliance on digital and electronic means of undertaking work".

Part 7 of the Bill contains proposed provisions relating to the calculation of time periods. These provisions have been improved and are set out in an updated format to improve their usability.

The Treasurer notes in his second reading speech, that:

"there is absolutely no intention for the Bill to override the provisions of other Acts or instruments where there is a contrary intention, and there has been no change from the current Act in that regard".

If passed, the resulting Act would be considered as part of the body of legislation that guides the interpretation, operation and making of legislation in South Australia. This includes the Legislation Revision and Publication Act 2002 (SA) and the Legislative Instruments Act 1978 (SA) (formerly known as the Subordinate Legislation Act 1978 (SA)).

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.


Legislation Interpretation Bill 2021 (SA), explanatory speech and materials available on TimeBase's LawOne Service

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