In the Australian legal system, laws come from two principal sources:

  • common law made by judges in the courts;
  • legislation made by politicians in parliaments both state and federal, or by local government. Local government legislation is usually called ‘subordinate legislation’ or ‘by-laws’

Legislation, also known as statute or Acts, is the primary source of law, and it comes from the parliament. But judges in court still influence how legislation applies. For example, an Act may apply to ‘the control of all domestic animals’. A person may own a ferret for rabbiting purposes. A judge will be responsible for determining whether the Act applies to ferrets, or this particular ferret.

Law derived from international sources also plays a role in areas such as human rights, trade and environmental protection. There is no requirement that international laws be made into law in Australia. International and domestic law are entirely separate systems. However, international law increasingly represents international moral standards, or practical means of regulating a global economy. In cases such as these, it is often common sense for the Australian government to bring international law into Australian law.

An interesting and important question is, why do Australians accept their laws? There are a number of ways of looking at this question. Some philosophers have said that a ‘social contract’ ties us all to the law; that we agree to the laws in return for the protections of the State. Other philosophers say that it is the government’s monopoly on violence that binds us to the law. The question of what makes laws ‘legitimate’ is something worth thinking about.

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