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Parliament and the war

War Precautions Act 1914

We all recognise that at a time of war the Executive is entitled to be invested with authority which Parliament would not think of intrusting to it in ordinary times.

Sir William Irvine, House of Representatives, 28 October 1914

One of the first Acts made after the new Parliament sat in October 1914 was the War Precautions Act 1914 (revisions in 1915, 1916 and 1918). The Act gave the Governor-General, on the advice of the Australian Government, the power to make regulations for 'securing the public safety and the defence of the Commonwealth'. Over 100 regulations were made under the Act, covering everything from trespassing on military property to the imprisonment of 'disaffected and disloyal' naturalised subjects. The War Precautions Act 1914 was repealed in 1920.

The increase in the number of regulations made by the executive government (the Prime Minister and ministers) marked a shift in power from the Australian Parliament to the executive government. Using the defence powers in the Australian Constitution (Section 51 (vi)), the executive was able to make regulations which would have been unlawful in peace time.


The War Precautions Act 1914 outlined what the Australian Parliament agreed was necessary for 'securing the public safety and defence of the Commonwealth' during World War I. But it left the detail to be covered by regulations. The Governor-General, acting on the advice of the Australian Government, was delegated (given) the power to make these regulations by the Parliament.

Regulations are a type of delegated legislation used by the Parliament to provide more flexibility in the law-making process. Regulations have the same force as law.

Regulations become law on the day they are registered. The Parliament has the opportunity to disallow (overrule) a regulation after it has been presented to the Parliament. Currently regulations must be presented to the House of Representatives and Senate within six sitting days of registration but during World War I this was within 30 sitting days.

It is not only in a time of war that the Australian Parliament invests the executive with the power to make regulations. In fact, each year the executive makes more than 2 000 regulations and other delegated legislation.