Opinion Number. 474



The Secretary, Department of External Affairs

A despatch has been received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies for-warding copies of the International Sanitary Convention of 1912 signed at Paris(1) and requesting information as to whether the Commonwealth Ministers desire that the Convention should be applicable to the Commonwealth.

The Director of Quarantine in his report on the matter states inter alia as follows:

The new Convention is a definite advance on that of 1903 especially in the matter of Quarantine defence against Yellow Fever and Cholera. It will entail no fresh burdens on the Commonwealth.

It is therefore recommended that the Commonwealth become a party to the Con-vention with the following qualifications:-

  1. That it is not prepared to limit its declaration of places as infected to those places in which plague has occurred in man, as the occurrence of the disease in rats is of equal if not of greater importance in the spread of the disease.
  2. That it is not prepared to recognise as clean any place in regard to which it is reported merely that no fresh case of plague has occurred in man within 3 days.

The Commonwealth will continue to treat as infected or as a place from or through which plague may be brought or carried to Australia, any place in which plague has oc-curred in man or other animals, unless it is certified that effective measures for the exter-mination of rats and other specially susceptible animals and the search for infected rodents have been maintained for a period of at least six (6) months from the date of the occurrence of the last local case in man or among rodents, and that during the whole of that period no infected rodents have been found.

The papers have been forwarded to me by the Secretary to the Department of External Affairs for advice as to whether it is competent for the Commonwealth to ad-here with the qualifications set out.

The provision of the Convention as regards adherence is as follows:

Governments who have not signed the present convention shall be admitted to adhere thereto on request. This adhesion shall be notified through the diplomatic medium to the Government of the French Republic and by that Government to other Governments having signed it(2).

This provision makes no reference to adherence with reservations.

It is clear that, in practice, adherence to Conventions subject to reservations is al-lowed, but it is very difficult for me to advise as to the extent to which reservations would be allowed in the case of this particular Convention.

The two suggested reservations are evidently both important but the extent of their importance is mainly a matter for the consideration of medical experts.

The object of the Convention is to secure uniformity of treatment and action as be-tween the different countries adhering to the Convention, and an adherence which failed to secure that object would in reality be no adherence at all.

Whether the reservations are such as to seriously impair the effect of adherence I am unable to advise, but I think that, if they would produce a marked difference be-tween the action and treatment in Australia in regard to an infected area in a country of the Convention and the action and treatment in that country in regard to an infected area in Australia, adherence subject to them would not be admitted.

If the reservations are considered essential the proper action to take would be to ask the Imperial authorities to notify adherence on the part of the Commonwealth subject to the reservations and in case adherence on those terms is inadmissible to notify the Imperial Government as to the extent to which it is proposed on the part of the Com-monwealth to put the provisions of the Convention into effect.

[Vol. 10, p. 403]

(1) Dated 17 january 1912.

(2) Article 159.