Potatoes are magic. Vodka, Gin, Chips, Crisps are four of the great pleasures of life. They are resilient, they are versatile and they are friends of meat. Taters; you can boil em, mash em or stick em in a stew.
It is possible to have too many of them though, and I’m not referring to diabetes, alcoholism or Ireland circa 1850s. I’m talking about 2016, I’m talking about Australia and more specifically I’m talking about Western Australia.
Every now and then you come across a brow-furrowing law that makes you re-read it several times before you either give up or dig deeper. For 70 years in Western Australia it was illegal to have too many potatoes. Feel free to re-read that as often as you want.
Under the Marketing of Potatoes Act 1946 (WA) it is illegal for a person to sell or deliver potatoes unless it is to an approved body or they have a special permit. It is also illegal to buy potatoes directly from a grower. There is an exception for quantities less than 50kg, but this isn’t even a strict rule, you can still be charged for less than 50kg as long as the officer reasonably believes it is 50kg. On top of this it is a offence of strict liability…like drugs. If you have 50kg of heroin in your boot then it is assumed to be yours until you show otherwise, and the same applies to our innocuous eye-riddled, carb-loading friends.
The law was passed as part of the creation of the Potato Marketing Corporation, a statutory authority with the monopoly over the sale and marketing of potatoes in Western Australia. This is the last body of its kind in Australia, with its most famous cousin the Australian Wheat Board losing its export monopoly after it accidentally gave $290m to some guy named Saddam.
The good news for lovers of the free market or enthusiastic potato hoarders is that after 70 years WA Parliament deregulated the WA potato market in July 2016 with the Potato Marketing Corporation to be abolished in December.
The news came a bit late for Antonino Gelati who was sued in early 2016 for planting too many potatoes and faced jail after giving the potatoes away for free despite an injunction, or the same Mr Gelati who brought proceedings in 2006 attempting to argue that the potato restrictions were in breach of the monopoly provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth).