The DataHub offers a range of data sets that can be analysed to offer novel insights into the design and complexity of Commonwealth legislation. The ALRC has created two webpages to illustrate how these data sets could be analysed and visualised, but these only scratch the surface of what is possible.
For example, the complexity data sets can be used as a jumping point to identify particularly complex Acts or subject matter, such as those that make extensive use of definitions or notional amendments (modifications). The quantitative data can then be combined by researchers with qualitative analysis of the text of particular Acts. Researchers can also focus on seeking to explain the trends that the data highlights. The DataHub’s example case studies for complexity and law design illustrate the potential of the data sets.
Example case studies — using the data
The ALRC has created two case studies in how the data sets published on the DataHub can be used to better understand the complexity of Commonwealth legislation and different approaches to law design.
- Measuring Legislative Complexity demonstrates how the complexity of Commonwealth Acts made since 1901 can be explored quantitatively. The page prompts questions such as:
- Why have cross-references between Acts become so common and why do particular Acts become nodes in complex networks of cross-references? Is there an alternative to such extensive cross-referencing or is this the best approach to law design?
- Why do certain areas of lawmaking, such as corporations and financial services, have so many definitions, while others areas of lawmaking include fewer defined terms?
- What explains the rise of indeterminate terms such as those related to ‘reasonableness’ and ‘good faith’? What does this mean for the roles of courts and administrative decision-makers?
- Obligations and penalties demonstrates how as made and in force Commonwealth Acts can be analysed to explore the number and growth of obligations, offences, and civil penalties in the statute book. The page prompts questions such as:
- Why are the number of obligations, offences, and civil penalties growing so rapidly, and why have particular periods seen notably rapid growth?
- Why do some areas of Commonwealth lawmaking include so many obligations, offences, and civil penalties?
Example analysis: Visualising the legislative universe
Figure 1 shows every in force Act of the Australian Parliament as yellow points, the size of which depends on the length of the legislation. The lines represent cross-references between Acts, when one Act refers in its text to another Act. The width of the lines represents the number of cross-references. The six Acts that have the most frequent cross-references to and from them are highlighted by name. The Figure was created using the In force Acts network data set and visualised with the open-source software Cytoscape.
Figure 1: Cross-references between in force Commonwealth Acts
Complexity-related data sets
The main complexity-related data sets include:
- As made Acts – Complexity and linguistic data: This covers all Acts made by the Australian Parliament since 1901. The data set was generated by textually analysing each as made Act published on the Federal Register of Legislation, and by combining this data with data from several other ALRC data sets.
- In force Acts – Complexity and linguistic data: This covers all in force principal Acts of the Australian Parliament. The data set was generated by textually analysing each in force Act published on the Federal Register of Legislation, and by combining this data with data from several other ALRC data sets.
- Act cross-references: This covers all in force principal Acts of the Australian Parliament. The data set was generated by textually analysing each in force Act published on the Federal Register of Legislation and searching for all references to any other Act of Parliament, whether in force or not (over 13,000 Act names were searched in each in force Act). Each row of the data set is a relationship in which one Act refers to another, and a column indicates the number of times a cross-reference occurs.
- Financial services law: This covers all legislation the subject-matter of which is classified as ‘corporations and financial services’ in the As made Commonwealth legislation data set. Each row of the data set is a relationship in which one piece of legislation is authorising, amending, or modifying another Act or legislative instrument. The data set is the product of combining the Amending legislative relationships data set, Modifications legislative relationships data set, and the Enabled by legislative relationships data set, but limited to ‘corporations and financial services’ legislation.