The Commonwealth Statute Book

Data as at 12 Dec 2022

The Commonwealth statute book represents the body of all legislation ever made by the Australian Government, and is comprised of Acts, regulations, and other legislative instruments. The Australian statute book as a body of law remains relatively unexplored, despite its importance to Australian society. Visitors to its pages are likely to jump into a selected Act or narrow body of legislation, such as in relation to health insurance or environmental approvals. The DataHub includes the first complete set of public data on the growth and scale of the statute book, both today and since the first Act was passed by the Australian Parliament in 1901.

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 Commonwealth legislation and lawmaking. These show how the data sets can be used to shed light on the scale, pace, and shape of lawmaking by the Australian Parliament and Executive:

  • The Statute Book Today demonstrates how the more than 280,000-page in force Commonwealth statute book can be explored quantitatively. The analyses just scratch the surface of what is possible, but prompt questions such as ‘who has made the legislation in force today?’, ‘what are the important areas for Commonwealth lawmaking today?’, and ‘how significant is delegated legislation today, compared to the laws made by Parliament?’
  • A Short History of a Long Statute Book shows how the DataHub’s ‘big data’ approach allows people to quantitatively examine the more than 13,200 Acts made since 1901, along with over 87,500 legislative instruments. The case study also seeks to prompt questions, such as ‘how have certain areas of lawmaking changed over time?’, ‘how have the makers of our laws changed over time?’, and ‘what does it mean that we are amending our laws more than ever?’.

The ALRC’s analysis in these case studies is conducted at a high level, and only touches on selected parts of the data available on the DataHub. For example, analysis could be conducted of the scale of explanatory documents for recent legislation, using the columns for ‘explanPages’ and ‘supportingPages’ in the As made Commonwealth legislation data set. Moreover, research could be conducted into recent lawmaking:

  • what subject matters has the Parliament prioritised over the past 12 months or three years?
  • what has Ministerial lawmaking looked like over the past 10 years, what subject matters has it affected, and how many of these legislative instruments have been exempt from sunsetting?
  • how many legislative instruments have been exempt from the sunsetting requirements of the Legislation Act 2003 over the past five years, and what types of subject matter do exempt instruments cover?

Any time periods can be selected for analysis, from the entire 120 years of the statute book to lawmaking during a single Parliament or term of government. Just filter the ‘legDate’ column in any ‘As made’ data set published on the DataHub to the dates you want to analyse.

Example analysis: Who makes our laws?

Figure 1 gives an example of how the DataHub can be used to examine the legislation produced by specific lawmakers. The Figure the number of pages of legislative instruments produced annually by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Using the ‘maker’, ‘legDate’, and ‘legPages’ columns in the As made Commonwealth legislative instruments data set, it is easy to identify the volume of legislation produced by different lawmakers. For the first time, it is easy to create time series for lawmaking by department, agency, subject matter, or type of legislation.

Figure 1: Pages of legislative instruments made annually by selected lawmakers (2010–2021)