Statutory definitions

Azimitabar v Commonwealth [2023] FCA 760

Statutory definitions, as mere aids to construction, are usually unable to confer powers10.  In this case, the definition of ‘immigration detention’ seemed to allow the minister to approve ‘another place’ as an immigration detention centre.  A delegate purported to use the power to approve the Mantra Hotel as such a centre.  This was challenged as unlawful.

Murphy J said (at [106]) the general principle was ‘not absolute’ and that departure from it was permitted where there is a ‘clear, contrary legislative intent’11 – as was the case here.  There is also generally a consistent practice to imply into official powers the practical ability to exercise them12.

This principle is from Episode 99 of interpretation NOW!


10 Gibb (1966) 118 CLR 628 (at 635), Kelly [2004] HCA 12 (at [84]).

11 Mekpine [2016] HCA 7 (at [61-62]).

12 Mayer (1985) 157 CLR 290 (at 301), Aye [2010] FCAFC 69 (at [62]).