A new court

Updated time

Last updated

21 March 2017

Darlinghurst Courthouse was the location of the first case before

the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court in 1906

By February of 1905 the new Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court had a President, Justice Richard O'Connor, a High Court judge appointed for a seven-year term, and an Industrial Registrar, Gordon Castle. The Court was based in Melbourne, and progressively established registries in all State and Territory capital cities.

Early work of the court

In its first five years the Court made only six awards. A lack of official forms delayed the first registration of an industrial organisation and the first hearing did not take place until November 1905 in Sydney.

One of the most significant decisions of the early Court was made in 1907 when the then President, Justice Henry Bournes Higgins, set a minimum wage of seven shillings per day. Known as the Harvester Case, the decision by Justice Higgins not only set the first minimum wage standard for Australian workers, but also introduced the concept of minimum wages based on the economic needs of employees rather than an employer's capacity to pay.

This 'basic' or 'living' wage was based on a male breadwinner supporting a wife and three children in 'a condition of frugal comfort'. The decision was made under the Excise Tariff Act, rather than the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It set a standard which was followed for decades to come.