Opinion Number. 130



The Minister for Trade and Customs

The Minister for Trade and Customs:

The Minister for Trade and Customs forwards these papers to me with the following minute (dated 14 February 1903):

Forwarded to the Honourable the Attorney-General. Is the Customs Department chargeable with cost of rat catching on wharves? It is neither owner nor occupier-except as to one King's warehouse. New South Wales makes no attempt of this sort.

The papers do not show any contention that the Department is under a legal obligation; but it appears that the Department last year incurred certain expenditure for rat destruction, and that the Chairman of the Public Health Department, Victoria, urges the necessity of the destruction of rats and the avoidance and remedying of conditions which favour the harbouring of rats in and about the wharves and buildings along the river and bay frontages.

The question is one of moral rather than legal obligation. In my opinion a State cannot impose any legal duty upon a Commonwealth Department in respect of vermin destruction; though the Commonwealth should undoubtedly set an example by co-operating to the fullest extent in giving effect to any measures adopted by State for public health and security. See my opinion of 23 December 1901(1) to Defence Department on the Victorian Vermin Destruction Act 1890.

I do not see however how the Customs can be considered responsible for the condition of wharves which are neither owned nor occupied by them.

[Vol. 3, p. 171 ]

(1) Opinion No. 33.