The early years

Updated time

Last updated

21 March 2017

Australia's federal industrial tribunal was created as a court in 1904–05 in the wake of Australia's birth as a nation and a series of crippling strikes preceding Federation. Its establishment was controversial. With several industrial systems already operating at a State level, many argued that a federal body was unnecessary, and could impinge on States' rights.

1891 pastoral strike, Queensland

After much debate in the Federation conventions, it was ultimately decided by a majority of one vote that the new Australian Constitution would include an 'industrial power' allowing the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws with respect to 'conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State'.


The Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was first introduced into the new Australian Parliament in 1903. Three governments failed to pass the bill and two prime ministers resigned as a direct result of differences on the scope of the bill. The legislation eventually passed on 9 December 1904 and received assent on 15 December 1904.

In his second reading speech on the Bill, then Attorney-General Alfred Deakin outlined his high hopes for the new institution:

'No measures ever submitted to any legislature offer greater prospects of the establishment of social justice and of the removal of inequalities than those which are based upon the principles of conciliation and arbitration... The Bill has been drawn from first to last, looking upon the employer and employee with strictly equal eyes, with a view to bringing them before the Bar of a tribunal... and I hope that we shall begin from this day forth to trust to these courts for industrial justice.'