Bills and explanatory material

Cite bills and explanatory material using the right style to help people find the source material.

Style for bill titles is roman type, title case

A bill is a draft Act introduced into parliament. A bill becomes an Act when the Governor-General gives assent to the bill after the Senate and House of Representatives agree on its content.

Write the titles of bills in roman type, not italics.

Bills have a:

  • short title (its name), which includes the year
  • long title (a description).

In general, use the short title. Use title case (maximal capitalisation). There is no comma between the title and year.

The long title uses sentence case.


  • Refugee Protection Bill 2019 [Short title]
  • A Bill for an Act to provide a legislative response to all people seeking asylum in Australia, and for related purposes [Long title]

Lower case is correct, unless the reference is to a specific bill

Always use an initial capital for the word ‘Bill’ when you write about a specific bill: ‘the Bill’, ‘this Bill’.

If you are writing about 2 or more bills, use the lower case: ‘the bills’, ‘these bills’.

If you write about a bill or bills generally, use the lower case: ‘a bill’, ‘some bills’.

For bills, people are unlikely to find the lower case forms confusing. If there’s any chance the text is unclear to readers, use a capital ‘B’.


The government drafted a legislative package that includes 3 bills:

  • the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019
  • the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019
  • the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill 2019.

The basic unit of a bill is a clause (cl)

Bills contain clauses, which become sections when bills become Acts. Clauses can be divided into subclauses, then into paragraphs and then into subparagraphs. Use lower case for these units of a bill unless they begin a sentence.

Long bills have clauses grouped into parts, divisions and subdivisions. Always use an initial capital for these units, for example ‘Part 1’.

Bills often contain schedules. These are not units but are components of bills, Acts and some delegated legislation.

Units below clause level

Commonwealth bills refer to units below clause level using the smallest unit of text. This is a convention used by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in legislative drafting. Some jurisdictions cite at clause level.


These citations specify the smallest unit of text:

  • clause 9
  • subclause 9(4)
  • paragraph 9(4)(a)
  • subparagraph 9(4)(a)(ii).

Other jurisdictions might cite the subparagraph as ‘clause 9(4)(a)(ii)’. [A citation at clause level]

Whether to cite at clause level or below will depend on the context for your content. You can choose which method to follow.

Content that discusses the operation and effect of certain subclauses, paragraphs and subparagraphs will cite at the smallest unit level. A general discussion about the provisions of a bill will cite at clause level.

Follow in-house style. Otherwise, be guided by the type of content you’re writing, and its purpose and audience.

Shortened forms for units

The shortened forms of ‘clause’ and ‘clauses’ are ‘cl’ and ‘cls’. Write them in lower case and without a full stop.

The shortened forms of ‘subclause’ and ‘subclauses’ are ‘subcl’ and ‘subcls’.

The other units of bills mentioned above are also found in Acts.

You can use both the long and shortened forms of units for in-text citation and notes. To decide which to use, think about the type of content, its users and the amount of legal material cited in it. If the long form better helps people understand the text, use it.


  • Clause 12 vests Commonwealth powers in the Minister …
  • The Underwater Cultural Heritage Bill 2018 provides automatic protection for the remains of vessels located in Australian waters for at least 75 years (paragraph 16(1)(a)).
  • 1 Commonwealth Registers Bill 2019, subcl 25(1).

Explanatory material titles use roman type, title case

Explanatory material includes explanatory memoranda and explanatory statements.

An explanatory memorandum is a document tabled in parliament with a bill. It explains the objective of a proposed law and how it will operate. The Australian Government has provided explanatory memoranda with all government bills since 1982.

An explanatory statement is a similar document that accompanies delegated legislation such as regulations and determinations.

Write titles in roman type. Use title case for the titles of explanatory material.

Don’t use capitals for ‘explanatory memoranda’ and ‘explanatory statements’ when writing about explanatory material in the general sense.

For content that mentions explanatory material often, use these shortened forms:

  • EM (explanatory memorandum)

  • EMs (explanatory memoranda or memorandums)

  • ES (explanatory statement or statements).

Write them in parentheses at first mention and use the shortened form after that.


Material that does not form part of an Act (extrinsic material) can be used in the interpretation of an Act. Extrinsic material includes explanatory memorandums (EMs). The Legislation Register attaches an EM to each bill that is introduced.

Write the titles of explanatory material as in-text citations to give context.


The Parliamentary Precinct Regulations 2011 allow the law governing the Parliamentary precinct to be applied to another location if Parliament House is unavailable due to a major event such as ‘an earthquake’ or ‘terrorist attack’ (Explanatory Statement, Select Legislative Instrument 2011 No. 181).

Release notes

The digital edition has considerable advice on how to cite legal material. It includes new material on Commonwealth tribunals and Australian Tax Office rulings. It expands on sixth edition information on treaties.

The digital edition departs from sixth edition guidance about the capitalisation, punctuation and italicisation of citation elements for some legal material. The current edition also recommends the contraction ‘Cth’ rather than ‘Cwlth’.

These departures are informed by legal material and general publications from Australian courts, government agencies working in the legislative context and academic sources. The digital edition style is for general, rather than specialist, legal content.

The Content Guide briefly mentioned legislation in relation to capitalisation. There was no detailed guidance about how to cite legislation.

About this page


Attorney-General’s Department (2017) Style guide, Australian Government, Canberra.

Attorney-General’s Department (2020) ‘Religious Freedom Bills: second exposure draft’, Consultations, reforms and reviews, Attorney-General’s Department website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Australian Government Solicitor (n.d.) Publications, Australian Government Solicitor website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Department of the House of Representatives (2018) ‘Bills — the parliamentary process’, in Elder DR (ed) House of Representatives practice, 7th edn, Department of the House of Representatives, accessed 16 June 2020.

Department of the Senate (2016) ‘Chapter 12: legislation’, in Laing R (ed) Odgers’ Senate practice, 14th edn, Department of the Senate, accessed 16 June 2020.

Hansard (2020) Hansard style guide, Department of Parliamentary Services, Parliament of Australia, Canberra.

Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc and Melbourne Journal of International Law (2018) Australian guide to legal citation, 4th edn, Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, accessed 16 June 2020.

O’Neill P (2006) Was there an EM?: explanatory memoranda and explanatory statements in the Commonwealth Parliament, Parliament of Australia website, accessed 16 June 2020.

OPC (Office of Parliamentary Counsel) (n.d.) Bills: in force, OPC website, accessed 16 June 2020.

OPC (n.d.) Drafting manuals, OPC, accessed 16 June 2020.

OPC (n.d.) Glossary, Federal Register of Legislation website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Parliamentary Library (n.d.) Explanatory memoranda index 1901–1982, Parliament of Australia website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Parliamentary Library (n.d.) Key internet links on Australian law, Parliament of Australia website, accessed 16 June 2020.

PM&C (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) (2017) Legislation handbook, PM&C, accessed 16 June 2020.

Thomson Reuters Australia (2017) ‘Legislation and commentary table of abbreviations’, Westlaw AU Guides, Thomson Reuters Australia, accessed 16 June 2020.

University of Technology Sydney and University of New South Wales Faculties of Law (n.d.) Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), AustLII website, accessed 16 June 2020.

Whitbread D and Leary K (2016) AGS editorial style guide, Australian Government Solicitor, Canberra.

This page was updated Thursday 10 June 2021.