Legislating in Language – Recent Developments and Interpretative Issues Arising From Parliamentary Debate and Legislation in Indigenous Languages
12 Pages Posted: 8 May 2019
Date Written: April 7, 2019
There are signs that Australia is beginning a long-overdue process of incorporating Indigenous languages first, into its parliamentary debates and, ultimately, its legislation. The first recorded usage of an Indigenous language in an Australian parliament was in the Northern Territory in 1981 when Neil Bell addressed the Legislative Assembly in Pitjantjatjara. Similarly, the first usage of an Indigenous language in the federal Senate was when Northern Territorian Senator Trish Crossin spoke in Gumatj in 1998. More recently, a number of federal, state and territory houses of parliament have had members and guests use Indigenous languages on as varied topics as environmental protection, treaty and land rights. In 2017, Victoria passed the first Australian statute incorporating Indigenous words in its title and preamble. It seems fair to say that Indigenous languages are increasingly entering the lexicon of Australian public law. This is inarguably a welcome development, but to date it has received insufficient scholarly and public attention. In order to further this project of legislating in language it is necessary to address the novel interpretative issues and cross-cultural interpretative approaches required by multi-lingual legislation and extrinsic materials. This paper will begin to unpack some of these issues. First, a review will be conducted of the process by which current Australian parliamentary rules and practices allow for, or constrain, multi-lingual debate and legislation. A comparative approach will be taken to learn from how other countries, including Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, have passed, interpreted and applied multi-lingual legislation. Particular attention will be paid to two interpretative rules: the equal authenticity rule and the shared meaning rule. The ultimate aim of this paper is to propose interpretative principles for the future expansion of Indigenous language legislation and parliamentary debate in Australia.
Keywords: legislation, statutory interpretation, bilingual legislation
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