Opinion Number. 148

Subject

FREEDOM OF INTERSTATE TRADE WHETHER STATE MAY IMPOSE WHARFAGE CHARGES ON INTERSTATE GOODS WHILE EXEMPTING DOMESTIC PRODUCE

Author
Key Legislation

CONSTITUTION, s. 92

Date
Client
The Minister for Trade and Customs

The Ministerfor Trade and Customs:

Mr Hartnoll, M.P. has written to the Minister for Trade and Customs a letter from which the following is an extract:

Let me instance the fact that while the sea-borne products of Victoria can be landed on the Melbourne wharves, without any wharfage payment, rates are levied upon similar products from other States which in some cases become a high charge upon original cost. I will take one article which will illustrate my meaning-Potatoes grown in the Warrnambool district and delivered on the Melbourne wharves, are exempt but potatoes grown in Tasmania, and costing at present market value £2 a ton, with a 5/- a ton wharfage rate are loaded with an extra charge of \2Vi%, this I feel quite certain you will readily admit is opposed to the true interpretation of free trade between the several States of the Commonwealth. I quite agree with you that to impose the same wharfage rates throughout the Commonwealth would be impracticable, because of the special responsibilities which some Marine Boards have incurred, but surely an uniform rate within the jurisdiction of each Board as contemplated by the Constitution can be insisted upon. In the interests of producers in all the States I would earnestly urge your Government to take an early opportunity of testing through the State Courts the unconstitutional action of some Marine Boards so that the present wrong may be speedily remedied.

The Minister for Trade and Customs forwards the letter to me with the following minute:

Assuming the facts to be as stated in Mr HartnolPs letter, I shall be glad to be advised-

  1. Whether the action of a Victorian Marine Board in charging wharfage against Tasmanian produce and not against Victorian produce is lawful.
  2. If not, what steps if any should be taken in the matter and by whom.

In my opinion, a wharfage rate imposed by a State authority in respect of produce from other States, and not imposed in respect of the domestic produce of the State, is in violation of section 92 of the Constitution, which declares that trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free. Such a rate places interstate trade at a disadvantage compared with domestic trade.

It is for some person prejudiced by the rate to take action.

When the Inter-State Commission Bill is passed, further remedies will probably be available, and also more effective machinery; and it will be possible to deal with such matters as this, not only as a breach of interstate free trade, but also as a discrimination forbidden by Commonwealth law.

[Vol. 4, p. 4]