Australia - A Glossary

Act of Parliament

A law passed by Parliament and enacted with the Assent by the sovereign or their representative (until then it is a Bill). Also known as legislation, or a statute.


The group of judges appointed to a particular Court


Refers to legislatures comprising two chambers: an elected Lower House, and an Upper House, originally with Members who were appointed rather than elected. The Commonwealth Parliament comprises the House of Representatives and the Senate and all the State Parliaments are also bicameral, except for Queensland.


A proposed law introduced to Parliament or passed by Parliament but not yet enacted


Written document delivered by the sovereign or legislature; granting privileges or recognising rights; a written evidence, instrument


The administrative arm of government, headed by Cabinet Ministers, the senior Ministers forming the Executive Council headed by the vice-regal representative (Governor-General of the Commonwealth, Governor of a State). The other two ‘arms’ of government are the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Great Seal

Signifies the monarch’s authority and is fixed to all State documents such as Assent originals of Acts of Parliament. The Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of the United Kingdom is the Lord High Chancellor (the Speaker of the House of Lords). In Australia, the Governor-General is responsible for the Great Seal of the Commonwealth under the Letters Patent of 29 October 1900.


The court system, the third ‘arm’ of government, which interprets and declares the law and people’s rights under the law

Letters Patent

A written instrument granting authority from the Crown, not enclosed but open to view, with the seal of the sovereign at the bottom

Order- in-Council

A command or direction from the Privy Council


A decree or direction of the monarch, or the Executive, without the authority of Parliament


Writing material made from animal skin


A direct vote of all electors; in Australia, distinguished from a referendum

Privy Seal

Used until 1884 as an authority to the Lord Chancellor to fix the Great Seal of the United Kingdom to a document

Privy Council

The private counsellors of the sovereign, always includes Members of Cabinet and in Britain others members such as princes and archbishops. An Order-in-Council gives effect to decisions of the Privy Council.

Under an Act of Parliament in 1833 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was established to hear appeals from dominions and dependencies of the Crown in any civil or criminal matter. The include Members include up to six senior judges or ex judges of self-governing dominions. The Judicial Committee, simply referred to as the Privy Council, does not formally deliver judgment, but gives a decision of which the sovereign is advised.


All electors voting on a specific issue; under Section 128, the Australian Constitution can only be altered by referendum where a majority of voters in a majority of States and Territories, as well as a majority of voters across the nation, agree to the change


Documents comprising membranes of parchment or sheets of paper sewn together end to end and rolled

Royal Assent

The sovereign’s signed Assent to an Act of Parliament

Royal Sign Manual

The 'royal hand' or the monarch's signature under the Royal Seal, as distinct from the signet


A seal with which certain documents are authorised on behalf of the monarch


The case holding the wax seal attached to the bottom of a document; the original meaning was ‘a small basket’

terra nullius

Latin phrase meaning 'land of no one', refers to a 17th century doctrine of European nations recognising a right to take possession of unoccupied lands


Originally a particularly fine and strong writing material made from calfskin; now any parchment with these qualities is referred to as vellum


Guarantee of authority from sovereign or government to undertake an action

© Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2000