Australia: NSW Government Bulletin: a zeugma in statutory interpretation

Last Updated: 6 December 2018
Article by Christine Jones and Lauren Stables
Most Read Contributor in Australia, March 2019

There's a zeugma in my statute

In Olefines Pty Ltd v Valuer-General of New South Wales [2018] NSWCA 265, the NSW Court of Appeal (the Court) dismissed an appeal challenging the valuation of two parcels of land. The parties' valuers had each employed a different valuation methodology, which arose from the complexity of section 6A of the Valuation of Land Act 1916 (NSW) (Valuation Act). In its decision the Court examined the construction of the section, including the impact of a zeugma in section 6A(2).

A zeugma is a language device where one word is used to modify two other words, albeit in different ways, such as in "She broke his car and his heart."

How does the Court deal with a zeugma in a statutory interpretation context?

Valuation of Land Act 1916 (NSW) s 6A

The Court recognised that the stark difference between the parties' valuations was due to the complexity of subsections 6A(1) and 6A(2) of the Valuations Act, each of which points in different directions. The relevant subsections of section 6A of the Valuations Act reads as follows:

6A Land value

  1. The land value of land is the capital sum which the fee-simple of the land might be expected to realise if offered for sale on such reasonable terms and conditions as a bona-fide seller would require, assuming that the improvements, if any, thereon or appertaining thereto, other than land improvements, and made or acquired by the owner or the owner's predecessor in title had not been made.
  2. Notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), in determining the land value of any land it shall be assumed that:
    1. the land may be used, or may continue to be used, for any purpose for which it was being used, or for which it could be used, at the date to which the valuation relates, and
    2. such improvements may be continued or made on the land as may be required in order to enable the land to continue to be so used,

but nothing in this subsection prevents regard being had, in determining that value, to any other purpose for which the land may be used on the assumption that the improvements, if any, other than land improvements, referred to in subsection (1) had not been made.

*emphasis added to reflect the different typefaces

Close examination of s 6A

In determining the case, the Court closely examined the syntactic structure of s 6A and made the following observations:

  • the basic structure of s 6A is that land value is the price realised by a hypothetical sale on certain assumptions. Whilst the assumptions are complex, qualified and contingent, there is a single statutory valuation
  • subsection 6A(1) values the land as if improvements had not been made. Subsection 6A(2) values the land on the basis that certain improvements may be continued or made. In the event of conflict or inconsistency, subsection 6A(2) prevails
  • subsection 6A(2) provides mandatory assumptions to be made in paragraphs (a) and (b), both of which are closely linked
  • paragraph (a) requires assumptions to be made about the use of land and has disjunctive pairings: "may be used" or "may continue to be used" and "it was being used" and "for which it could be used". The pairings have been italicised and underlined in the extract above for reference. Closely examining the structure of paragraph (a) emphasises the importance of the words "for any purpose" and reveals the use of a zeugma. In s 6A(2)(a), the words "for any purpose" only appear once, however the words relate to both disjunctive pairings. The Court held that in expanded form, section 6A(2)(a) would read: [it shall be assumed that]
    "the land may be used for any purpose for which it could be used.
    the land may continue to be used for any purpose for which it was
    being used, at the date to which the valuation relates..."
  • the words "in order to enable the land to continue to be so used" found in paragraph (b) is a reference to the four paired actual or possible uses of land referenced in paragraph (a). Therefore paragraph (b) requires an assumption to be made about the improvements which are required in order to enable the land use, as assumed in paragraph (a), to continue
  • the Court acknowledged that subsection 6A(1) requires the unimproved value of the land to be calculated as if improvements had not been made. This may appear inconsistent with subsection 6A(2) which commands an assumption that the improvements will continue on the land. In resolving the inconsistency the Court held the improvements are assumed to be present merely for the purpose of permitted an unimproved land value to be calculated having regard to the purpose for which they were erected and for which they are required.


In interpreting the section, the Court acknowledged that the provision was drafted to avoid unnecessary repetition of words. The Court therefore recognised the use of a zeugma and will read the provisions as though in an expanded form.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.

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Christine Jones
Lauren Stables
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