Ordinary meaning, the court said11, ‘must necessarily yield to the relevant statutory context’12. The ordinary meaning of ‘decision’ is a conclusion resulting from a mental process translated by an overt act giving finality to that conclusion13. What kind of overt act was required here and when?
The context meant this was when the decision went to the committee – not when the person made up their mind, not when a filenote was made and not when staff were told. Leaving aside if legal decisions may yet be made by an AI program14, this case shows how ordinary words may take their colour from their context, whose investigation is indispensable15.
This principle is from Episode 84 of interpretation NOW!
11 (at ) Lee, Stewart & Cheeseman JJ.
12 In this case, ss 86(1) & 88A(1) of the Health Insurance Act 1973.
13 Semunigus  FCA 240 (at [11, 75, 101]).
14 Pintarich  FCAFC 79 (at [41, 47-49]) Kerr J dissenting.
15 Chevron  FCAFC 62 (at ) Allsop CJ.