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Reducing the complexity of legislation

Complex legislation can create uncertainties about the law. This can impose unnecessary burdens on business and restrict the ability of those affected by the law to understand their legal rights and obligations.

There are many drivers (or causes) of complexity. The growth in legislation and the matters covered by legislation are one cause. However, the reality is policy is getting more complex and this often results in complex legislation to implement it.

The causes of complexity and the strategies that may be used to address them are discussed in the following paper:

Principles for clearer laws

Laws that are clear and easy to understand are an essential part of an accessible justice system. Clearly written laws can be better understood, complied with and administered.

Policymakers, instructing agencies and drafters should apply the following general principles when developing Commonwealth legislation:

  • Consider all implementation options—don't legislate if you don't have to.
  • When developing policy, reducing complexity should be a core consideration.
  • Laws should be no more complex than is necessary to give effect to policy.
  • Legislation should enable those affected to understand how the law applies to them.
  • The clarity of a proposed law should be continually assessed, from policy development through to consideration by Parliament (for Acts) and consideration by the rule-maker (for legislative instruments).

Regular review of legislation

Legislation should be regularly reviewed for readability, usability, ease of administration and policy desirability. This should include testing the legislation for continuing relevance, consistent with the Government's focus on reducing red tape.

A review should be done both as a stand-alone process and when existing legislation is being amended. The overall clarity of the legislation should be reconsidered and the underlying policy could also be reassessed.

In implementing new policy into legislation, instructors often look to make amendments to existing Acts without reviewing the existing provisions or the Act as a whole. This can result in longer legislation and make it harder to find and understand the relevant provisions and how they fit in with the Act as a whole.

There are also a number of provisions that are consistently repeated across Commonwealth legislation. Where possible, consideration should be given to developing new Acts of general application that can reduce the volume, and increase the consistency, of the statute book. The Acts Interpretation Act 1901 is the key example of such Acts.

For more information on developing legislation and reducing regulation, visit the Office of Parliamentary Counsel website or the Cutting Red Tape website.