Where do Victoria's laws come from?

Victoria's laws come from several different sources — the Australian Constitution, Victorian and federal legislation, and common law.

The Australian parliament building in Canberra.

Laws in Victoria

In Australia we have a federal system that governs all Australian states and territories; therefore people in Victoria are subject to both federal and Victorian laws.

Under our federal system, power to make laws is shared between the parliament in Canberra and each state parliament.

The federal parliament has power to make laws that affect all of Australia, whereas the Victorian parliament can only make laws that affect Victoria.

To reduce confusion, the Australian Constitution outlines the laws that can only be made by the federal parliament.

This section will introduce you to the laws that affect you in Victoria and explain where the laws come from.

The Australian Constitution

The Australian Constitution is Australia’s supreme law, providing a framework for the development of all other laws in Australia by establishing the division of power between the federal and state parliaments. The Constitution also provides fundamental laws and protections for all Australians.

The Australian Constitution was passed in 1900 to ensure greater cooperation between the states, which had been operating as

six separate British colonies, with increasing degrees of self-government since European settlement. Under the Constitution, the federal government has the ability to make laws for all Australians—allowing a more coordinated approach to the development of laws of national significance, such as those relating to defence.

In agreeing to the Australian Constitution, the colonies became states and passed some powers to the federal government to make laws for the whole country, while still maintaining the power to make other laws relating to their state.

The division of power established under the Australian Constitution can be changed either by the states referring powers to the Commonwealth or by a vote of the people, known as a referendum. As a result the division of power can change over time.

Victorian and federal legislation

Victorian legislation consists of laws made by the state Parliament of Victoria. Federal legislation consists of laws made by the federal parliament in Canberra. The federal parliament can only make law under the powers provided to it under the Australian Constitution or by agreement with the states.

Federal legislation affects all Australians, while Victorian legislation affects only Victoria. At any one time there will be hundreds of pieces of legislation in place, setting out the laws in all aspects of our lives.

To look at examples of legislation, go to www.legislation.gov.au for federal legislation or www.parliament.vic.gov.au/legislation for Victorian legislation.

Common law

Common law, sometimes referred to as judge-made law, is law developed by judges as they decide cases.

In deciding cases, judges refer to previous decisions for guidance on how the law is applied. Judges must also interpret the meaning of legislation in relation to particular situations. They record their decisions in written judgments that are then referred to

in the future by other judges. This ensures that the law is applied consistently. In this way judges clarify and sometimes refine the meaning of the law, using a system of precedent.

The concept of common law is hundreds of years old and goes back to when there was little or no written legislation. At this time judges referred to other judges’ decisions to ensure that matters coming before the court were treated consistently.

What's the difference between…

Legislation, statutes and Acts?

Nothing … All these words mean the same thing — laws made by parliament.

Commonwealth, federal and Australian parliament?

Again, nothing. All three terms refer to the Australian parliament in Canberra. You can find out more at the parliament website.
Australian parliament website.

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