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Noarlunga Meat Case

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The High Court is the most visible, and in one sense the most important, court in Australia. This is not because of the number of cases it decides or (in non-constitutional cases) because of the effect of its orders on litigants. It is because of the consequences of its judgments, as precedents determining the result of other cases in other courts, as authoritative statements of the law, as an expression of legal policy on sensitive political or social questions.

The High Court is the primary custodian of the Constitution, as the arrangements for constitutional cases in its original and appellate jurisdiction indicate. Its function is to develop a coherent body of constitutional doctrine consistent with the text of the Constitution and, as far as possible, appropriate to the needs of the community. In its constitutional role the High Court inevitably has to decide sensitive political questions.

Throughout the twentieth century the High Court has been quite deliberate in its approach to the Federalism Debate. Federalism means a demarcation of powers and this casts upon the Court a responsibility of deciding whether legislation is within the boundaries of allotted powers. The Federalism Debate is referred to as the power struggle between the Commonwealth and the states of Australia. Since its formation, the High Court has had several notable phases, all with different approached to the Federalism Debate.

1903-1920 was known as the "intentionalist phase" of the High Court. The Court set narrow limits on the Commonwealth powers to ensure they didn't deduct from State authority. 1920-1942 marked the "legalist (literalist) phase" of the High Court. By "legalist" it is meant that the judicial emphasis was placed upon the actual literal meaning of the words rather than looking back to see what the Founders may or may not have intended. The third phase of the High Court is the "neutral period" from 1942-1970. This was an era of applied legalism or "the black letter of the law". This literalist interpretation of the Constitution saw cases go both ways, with no major extension of Commonwealth power. 1970-1996 was the "activist phase" of the High Court. By "activist" interpretation, it is meant that the emphasis of judicial interpretation was placed upon the application of the Constitution in contemporary power. Since 1970 the High Court has adopted a broader interpretation of Commonwealth powers. The final phase of the High Court is known as the "Contemporary phase". This phase is from 1996 onwards. The Court has been seen as more legalist rather than activist and the new judges have given the Court a more conservative tendancy.

The phases of the High Court are often defined by the landmark cases within them. The landmark case I studied was O'SULLIVAN v. NOARLUNGA MEAT LTD. (1954) 92 CLR 565, commonly called The Noarlunga Meat Case. This case was from the "neutral phase" of the High Court, but the decision increased Federal power. The outcome of this case allowed the Commonweath to control hygiene requirments for meat killed in South Australia for interstate trade and overseas market under Section 51 of the Constitution.

The Commonwealth can legislate for matters that are incidential or ancillary to interstate Trade and Commerce. In regard to the Noarlunga Meat Case this means that regulations that control abbatoirs that export meat because it affects export trade. To regulate trade may be able to regulate activities in the factory, field or mine. "All acts or processes which can be identified as being done or carried out for export".

The first question of the Noarlunga Meat Case is whether s 52a is of the Metropolitan and Export Abbatoirs Act is a valid and operative enactment. The enacment of this section is within the constitutional power of South Australia. The question to be answered really is whether the section is inconsistent within

the meaning of s. 109 of the Commonwealth Constitution (When a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid). Hence the reason this case ended up in the High Court, as it was a dispute involving State and Commonwealth Lawas


The Noarlunga Meat Case deals with the conditions of abbatoirs. It states the lawas

on slaughtering meat and the conditions in which it is kept. It also states the lawas

regarding the trade and export of meat, as well as certain health regulations. The case also defines hygiene

conditions that Slaughterhouses must uphold and the licenses their operators need to have.

Chief Justice Dixon stated "Commonwealth regulations leave it open to the States to determine who is a fit and proper person to conduct the class of slaughtering operations mentioned in s 52a; what is a suitable place for an abattoirs in which such operations are conducted,and whether the establishment of any new abattoirs of that kind is necessary to meet the requirements of the public".

The defendant company was charged with a breach of s. 52a (1) in that it did on 27th November 1953 in a part of the State outside the Metropolitan Abattoirs Area use certain premises owned and occupied by it for the purpose of slaughtering certain stock, viz. lambs, for export as fresh meat in a chilled or frozen condition. Such a breach is made an offence against the Act by



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