Status of tax laws

Traditionally, there was a view that tax Acts ‘should receive a strict construction’1.  Hill J said it would be ‘a sad day’ if the rule were abandoned, as this could lead to ‘sloppy drafting’2. Kirby J disagreed, famously saying that a tax Act is ‘just another statute’3.

Where are we now on this?  With little fuss in 2009, the High Court confirmed that ‘tax statutes do not form a class of their own’4.  It is now uncontroversial that the same rules apply to them5.  The tax nature of an Act is still part of its context, but this is just one factor to be weighed in the purposive process.  iTip – use normal purposive interpretation for tax Acts without automatically favouring the taxpayer or the Commissioner.

This case is from Episode 14 of interpretationNOW!


Scott v Cawsey (1907) 5 CLR 132 (at 154).

(1998) 72 Australian Law Journal 685 (at 689).

Chant (1991) 103 ALR 387 (at 391).

Alcan [2009] HCA 41 (at [57]).

5  De Marco [2013] NSWCA 86 (at [19]), illustrates.