Initiating legislation


A bill like this is the first step towards new legislation

All legislation starts its life as a bill. A bill is a proposed law that is introduced into the parliament, where it is subject to scrutiny, discussion, debate and voting. If there is sufficient support for a bill in both houses of parliament then the bill will be approved for royal assent and passed into law. Before a bill is introduced into parliament, however, it must be created, written and checked. The process of conceiving and drafting a bill is complex and involves many groups, ideas, factors and steps. This process is rarely fast: it usually takes months, sometimes even years for an idea to appear as a bill and then legislation. Some of the factors that determine how bills are initiated include:

Party ideology. All political parties have a set of common values and ideas, shared by their members. These values and ideas shape the kinds of legislation they would like to see enacted. Parties therefore develop and introduce bills that reflect their core values. In most cases this is done by the party in government, however the opposition or minor parties can also draft and raise bills (though this is rare, since without a majority they are unlikely to succeed).

Election campaigns. The four weeks or so prior to an election is called a campaign. During this time each political party reveals its policies to voters. These policies may include promises of new legislation and amendments or repeal of existing legislation. The parties attempt to win voter support by demonstrating how they would change the law to improve living conditions and society within their jurisdiction. In 2007 an election promise of the Rudd Labor Party was that it would scrap the unpopular Workchoices legislation.

Media attention and public interest. Sometimes issues and problems receive much attention in the media, prompting parties or individual MPs to attempt a legislative response. Environmental concerns such as climate change and global warming, economic crises such as the global financial crisis and social problems such as night-time violence in urban Melbourne have all contributed to the development of new legislation and regulations.


Other pressures for law reform. These include but are not limited to: advice from parliamentary committees; recommendations from law reform bodies such as the ALRC and VLRC; pressure groups and lobbyists; legal advice from government lawyers and policy advisors; information and advice from government departments; and changes to international law. Advice from medical experts, marketing specialists and bureaucrats has led to legislation governing the packaging of tobacco products (see picture). Regardless of these pressures, in most cases the Prime Minister and Cabinet will make the final decision on which bills are introduced into the parliament.

Once the decision has been made to create a bill, the bill itself must be drafted (written). This process can itself be long and complicated. Bills must contain language that is unambiguous and conveys its meaning and intent as clearly as possible. As prospective pieces of legislation, bills must be constitutional and avoid conflict with other laws, whether in the same jurisdiction or in other jurisdictions. Above all, bills must be constructed in such a way that they facilitate the smooth functioning of the law: upholding community values, providing consistency and fairness, furnishing judges with adequate information and accommodating a broad range of possible scenarios. Because of this, lawyers are heavily involved in the drafting of bills. Most Federal government bills are prepared by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, a department specialising in the drafting of bills. Ministers provide parliamentary counsel with a briefing about what the bill is to contain and counsel acts on these instructions. State and Territory governments employ their own departments, parliamentary committees and legal advisors for the same purpose.

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