Section 69 Quarantine Proclamation, did it really happen?

Commonwealth Hansard, Quarantine Proclamation,

Section 69 Commonwealth Constitution.



The required proclamation as found in section 69 failed to be created at any time after Federation.






Transfer of certain departments

                   On a date or dates to be proclaimed by the Governor-General after the establishment of the Commonwealth the following departments of the public service in each State shall become transferred to the Commonwealth:

               posts, telegraphs, and telephones;

             naval and military defence;

                lighthouses, lightships, beacons, and buoys


                  But the departments of customs and of excise in each State shall become transferred to the Commonwealth on its establishment.





House of Representatives
6 February 1902

1st Parliament · 1st Session




asked the Prime Minister;  upon notice -

  1. Has his attention been drawn to complaints concerning the administration by State Governments of the quarantine laws and regulations ?
  2. When is it intended to issue a proclamation in terms of section 69 of the Constitution. Act to transfer the Departments of Quarantine to the Commonwealth ?

– I have been furnished with the following reply : -

  1. Not from any official source.
  2. It may be found necessary to introduce legislation before taking this step.
Mr Mahon:

– The Government are not likely to get official complaints.


– The complaints referred to are not necessarily complaints made by officials, but complaints, indorsed in some official quarter.

Mr Mahon:

– Well, the honorable and learned member can take one from me.


– If the honorable member will make known any complaints that he has, they will be considered.

page 9771



House of Representatives
9 July 1903

1st Parliament · 2nd Session




– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the recent outbreak of small-pox in Tasmania, it is the intention of the Government to introduce, during this session, the necessary machinery Bill to enable the Commonwealth to administer quarantine laws, as provided for in sub-section (9) of section 51 of the Constitution.

SirEDMUNDB ARTON.- No machinery measure is necessary to enable the Commonwealth Government to administer the quarantine laws of the various States, inasmuch as provision is made in the Constitution for the transferof the States Departments to the Commonwealth on a proclamation being issued by the Governor-General in Council. I take it that the honorable member desires to know whether it is the intention of the Government to at once issue the necessary proclamation for the transfer of these Departments. I do not see anything in the present state of affairs which shows that the taking over of the Quarantine Department is, any more than before the outbreak of small-pox at Launceston, a question of urgency, and I think the matter demands a little more consideration before anything is done.

page 1960






30 July 1903

1st Parliament · 2nd Session



Senator WALKER:

asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council,  upon notice- -

Is it the intention of the Government during the present session of Parliament, to issue a proclamation in accordance with the Constitution Act transferring to the Commonwealth the control of quarantine?

Senator O’CONNOR:

-The Government has no such intention at present, but will keep the matter in mind.

page 2804


10 March 1904

2nd Parliament · 1st Session



Senator WALKER:

asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council,  upon notice -

When does the Government propose to take over the Department of Quarantine?

Vice-President of the Executive Council · SOUTH AUSTRALIA · Protectionist

– The matter has not been decided by the Cabinet.

page 353




House of Representatives
20 July 1904

2nd Parliament · 1st Session



PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he intends to lay upon the table the report of the recent Conference on the question of Federal Quarantine, and, if so, when.


– My honorable colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs, is now absent from Melbourne, and I am not aware of his intentions in this respect, but if the honorable member will repeat his question next week, my honorable colleague will furnish him with an answer.

page 3394









asked the Prime Minister,  upon notice -

Whether it is the intention of the Government, pending the introduction of a Bill dealing with quarantine, to take control of quarantine in the several States, by Proclamation ?


– This matter is at present under the consideration of the Government at the instance of the Minister of Trade and Customs- It is only right that I should state that the whole position is rather complicated so far as taking over control of the Department by proclamation is concerned, by the fact that in none of the States, so far as I am aware, is there a distinct Department of Quarantine. In all cases matters relating to quarantine are administered by the Health Departments cf the States, and therefore a complication would be introduced if it were considered desirable to take control by proclamation. There is no distinct Department of Quarantine, as there was a Post-office or Military Department, that could be taken over in going order by the Commonwealth. I do not say that the difficulties are insuperable. It may be possible to make some arrangement by which certain officers can be recognized as quarantine officials, and in that way any obstacles may be removed. In any case, the matter is under the consideration of the Government, and we hope to arrive at a speedy conclusion so far as our recommendation to the House is concerned.

page 3574

Minister for Trade and Customs · RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP; NAT from 1917

– This Bill already provides in clause 2a -

  1. Whenever the Governor-General is satisfied that an emergency exists which makes it necessary to do so, he may, by proclamation, declare that any or all measures of quarantine prescribed by or under any State Act shall, for such period as is specified in the proclamation, cease to have effect, and such measure shall thereupon cease to have effect accordingly.

Section 52 of the Constitution gives us power to deal with quarantine matters, inasmuch as it provides that if the. law of a. State is contrary to the Commonwealth law, the Commonwealth law shall prevail. When once the GovernorGeneral has declared that a state of emergency exists, he can issue a proclamation that the States cannot take any action contrary to ours.


1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 1988
PREVIOUS ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 01/01/1988

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This article has been contributed by the Commonwealth Department of Community Services and Health.

Quarantine in Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove and has since remained a major public health pre-occupation.

However it was not until 1909 that a federal quarantine service was created as a unit of the Department of Trade and Customs.

The federal Constitution had provided for quarantine as the only specific health power of the new Commonwealth Parliament but it was not until 1921 that federal Cabinet approved the creation of a Ministry of Health. The Director of Quarantine became the Director-General of Health and the quarantine services were transferred from the control of the Minister for Trade and Customs to the Minister for Health.

Administration of the Quarantine Act also involved responsibility for quarantine with respect to animals and plants moving into Australia. However in 1984 the functions relating to animal and plant quarantine were transferred to the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry, the responsibility for human quarantine remaining with the Department of Health.

Early problems

When the First Fleet arrived, Sydney Cove was regarded as a healthy place. But the convicts and soldiers were not free from the epidemic scourges common in the more civilised parts of the world. Diseases recorded in the struggling days of the first settlement included cholera, dysentery, smallpox, typhoid fever and venereal diseases.

In 1789, one year after the arrival of the First Fleet, there was an outbreak of smallpox amongst the Aboriginals, causing deaths over a wide region. However, Governor Phillip did not believe that the epidemic was linked with the arrival of the First Fleet as the first cases of the disease were observed some 15 months after the arrival of the Europeans. It was doubted that the smallpox virus was capable of sustaining over such a long period of time.

To combat smallpox, supplies of vaccine were sought from England and by 1806, 1,000 of the population of 7,000 had been vaccinated.

The first line of defence against the importation of disease was also established in this period. In 1804, vessels from New York were ordered into quarantine for fourteen days on arrival at Port Jackson because of an 'infectious distemper" (1) raging in their home-port. In the following year the ship Richard and Mary was quarantined 'till further orders' in Sydney Harbour as the crew was 'infected with a dangerous fever'.(2)

As the Australian colonies developed, each used quarantine as a primary safeguard of the community's health. Medicine was just beginning to establish the basis of a scientific approach while public health techniques were generally confined to establishing and maintaining clean water supply and sewerage systems, and enforcing standards for food handling and quarantine. The practice of separating travellers suspected of being disease carriers was well established, dating back to Venice in the fourteenth century.

First quarantine measures (3)

The fragmented nature of the Australian colonies and their differing quarantine measures in the days of sail were not then of great public concern. The time taken on the voyage from Europe, England or America ensured that any infectious disease incubating among passengers or crew would have broken out by the time the ship arrived at its Australian destination and could be detected and dealt with. Quarantine measures were generally able to prevent the diseases penetrating the port population.

With the increasing speed of sea transport in the latter half of the last century, the opening of the Suez Canal and the growing practice of ships calling at a number of Australian ports instead of the earlier practice of only one, the picture began to change. Ships using the Suez route were not only reaching Australia more quickly, but were touching at Middle Eastern and Asian ports where serious diseases were endemic.

In 1884 the Government of New South Wales convened a conference of representatives from each colonial government, known as 'The Australasian Sanitary Conference of Sydney, NSW, 1884'. It called for a co-ordinated scheme of quarantine for both Australia and the nearby Pacific Islands. The delegates were insistent that a co-ordinated quarantine system be accompanied by effective internal sanitation measures. Their report said:

Quarantine can be, and is, of value commensurate with its costs only to countries whose internal sanitation is good; it cannot be considered, therefore, except as a part of the general subject of State Medicine. (4)

As part of an Australia-wide quarantine system the conference sought the establishment of two quarantine stations -- one at Albany in Western Australia and the other at Cooktown in Queensland, the two main shipping approaches to Australian ports. Nothing came of the recommendations, but the need to protect the people of Australia from imported disease was not lost sight of altogether. When the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia was finally established, quarantine measures were included in the legislative powers of the Commonwealth. Health measures as such, however, were to remain a province of the States.

The newly-formed Commonwealth Government found very early in its life that it had to become involved in a practical way with health measures when, one year after it came into being, it had to deal with the plague which had reached Australia in 1900. Though not the first time that the disease had appeared in Australian ports, it was the first time since the Commonwealth had assumed responsibility for quarantine measures. The outbreak lasted ten years in a sporadic pattern affecting all States except Tasmania. Although it did not reach alarming proportions the occurrence prompted co-ordinated action by the States.

Plague and national quarantine

It had been established by then that infected fleas from rats spread plague, and Commonwealth action to prevent the entry of the disease was sought. in 1904 health authorities from each State and the Commonwealth met and recommended the creation of a Federal Quarantine Service, to be controlled by the central government but operated by the Chief Health Officers in each State to whom authority would be delegated by the Commonwealth. Finally in 1906, the six State Premiers agreed to hand over quarantine administration to the Commonwealth, and on I July 1909 the Federal Quarantine Service began operations, within the Department of Trade and Customs.

However, this somewhat loose method of Commonwealth-State co-operation soon ran into difficulties. In 1910 Victoria withdrew from the system, with the State Government claiming that the performance of quarantine duties by its senior officer interfered with State health duties. The Commonwealth was urged to appoint its own staff and in August 1911 this was done with the appointment of a Chief Quarantine Officer for Victoria.

With the exception of Tasmania, all the States found problems which interfered with the smooth working of the original proposal and by 1916 a Commonwealth Medical Chief Quarantine Officer had been appointed to each of the mainland States. In Tasmania the original system continued until July 1929.

The main problems of this exercise in State-Commonwealth co-operation revolved around the Commonwealth being called upon to administer a public service with part-time staff. The States found difficulty in carrying out their ordinary health duties because of the arrangement. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the Commonwealth was legally responsible for a service which was administered by officers who were not responsible to the Commonwealth.

The powers of the Commonwealth were seen as complementary to those of the States and not dominant. The States, on the other hand, could prescribe measures but did not have the facilities to carry them out. The Quarantine Act was amended by the Commonwealth on a number of occasions in the next few years as new problems arose. The amendments expanded the Commonwealth's authority in quarantine matters to cover internal epidemics, as well as improving overall quarantine methods for diseases from outside the country.


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