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Finding legal, policy and government information

  • Think of your topic in media and government language - e.g. “same-sex marriage” and “gay marriage” may give you quite different results from “marriage equality”, “boat people” and “illegal immigrants” will give you different results from “refugees” and “asylum seekers”
  • Use media from around the time particular policies were introduced to get an idea of the language that was used then
  • Use Google Advanced Search to find documents from government, political and community organisations rather than commercial ones by limiting your search to particular sites, regions, languages, time periods, and/or file type
  • Think about the different stakeholders  (government departments, political parties, lobby groups, community organisations) who are likely to have been involved in and/or impacted by the policy and browse their websites for publications and other resources in the area to get an idea of research and issues
  • Browsing collections and websites is often easier – especially if you’re new to the topic- and to is a good way to find out the context surrounding a particular policy
  • If you want to compare Australian policy with policy from other countries, pick those countries with similar federal or national government systems - like Canada - rather than unitary government systems in order to make your comparisons most relevant, meaningful and practical. Federacy government systems (Finland, Denmark, France) may be useful too as some substates function like states in a federation and others like states in a unitary state

There are many different types of information available online. Some websites exist to promote and sell or to advocate and influence in other ways, some to provide up-to-date news, current affairs and commentaries, some provide information a particular topic,  and others are personal. 

The top-level domains in a URL (or web address) are used to categorise websites and, as such, they can help you begin to identify the type of information you are seeing even before you look at a website.

Common top-level domains are:

  • .edu (educational)

  • .gov (government)

  • .com (commerical)

  • .net (network)

  • .org (organisational, often not-for-profit)

Educational (.edu) websites are a good place to start your research as you can find background information published by universities and related institutions, as well as some special collections curated and/or hosted by them.

Government (.gov) websites contain government documents and reports and these can be useful primary sources for a particular time and country. They also often include government-funded cultural heritage institutions, which increasingly display digital collections as well as the historical context about them.

You should be more wary of commercial (.com) and organisation (.org) websites as their purpose is not always clear. They may be useful but you need to verify the credibility of their information and it may be harder to do so.

In all cases, you should use the aforementioned questions and tips to help you think critically about what they have made available and what they ve not, and why.

  • Excellent source of stable, persistent links to a growing number of Australian policy documents and commentaries, research and other analyses. 
  • Access policy documents, commentaries (including some journal articles) and research papers from many different areas of government
  • You can search, but the best way to find reports is to browse by the following collections or topics and then filter by different facets (such as additional topics, sources, resource types and metrics):
    • Browse collections and topic: Public Administration & Governance | Policy history| Social impact | Terrorism | NDIS
    • Browse subjects: Politics | ​ Social issues | ​ Indigenous 
    • Browse formats: Research | commentary | data | policy
  • Filter your search or browsing by subjects, subject areas, date, location and resource type

Parliamentary Library resources are best for background information about legislation and policy - in plain English!

You may not necessarily cite anything from here, but it should lead you to policies, legislation and research in your area of analysis and help you understand background information, contextual details, and identify key words.