Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration

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The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is a defunct Australian court, which had jurisdiction to arbitrate interstate industrial disputes.

The court was created in 1904 by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904, an Act of the Parliament of Australia. Its functions were the hearing and the arbitration of industrial disputes, and to make awards. It also had the judicial functions of interpreting and enforcing awards and hearing other criminal and civil cases relating to industrial relations law. The court's first President was High Court Justice Richard O'Connor.

The court was initially less important than the various State commissions, which had jurisdiction over all disputes which occurred within states. The court's workload was so low that it made only six awards in the first five years of its existence.[1] One of these early awards was the famous Harvester Judgment, delivered by H.B. Higgins, which first introduced the concept of the living wage (also known as a basic wage). Another of its early acts was to set the standard working week at 48 hours.

The court was reformed in 1926 following amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The changes included replacing the President with a Chief Judge alongside other judges, and ensuring that all cases involving the basic or living wage would be heard by a full bench of the court. The changes also allowed for the appointment of Conciliation Commissioners, with a role similar to mediators. The court was changed again in 1947 to increase the role of the Commissioners, leaving the judges to conduct the judicial work, and a select few matters of arbitration including the basic wage and the minimum wage for women.[1]

In 1930, the court reduced the standard working week to forty four hours, down from forty eight. During the Great Depression, the court reduced wages by 10%. In 1947, the working week was reduced again, to forty hours.[2]

The court was abolished in 1956 following a decision of the High Court in the Boilermakers' case. The High Court held that the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, as a tribunal exercising the non-judicial power of arbitration, could not also exercise judicial power as a Chapter III Court. The decision became an important demonstration of the separation of powers in Australia.

Following the decision, two new bodies were created to emulate the function of the defunct court; the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (later the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and as of 2006 the Australian Industrial Relations Commission) was created to carry out the non-judicial functions, and the Commonwealth Industrial Court (later subsumed into the Federal Court of Australia) was created to exercise judicial powers.


  1. ^ a b "Commonwealth Court of Conciliation & Arbitration" (http). Australian Trade Union Archives. Retrieved 18 January 2006. 
  2. ^ "Centenary of Federation and the Court/Commission" (http). Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Retrieved 18 January 2006. [dead link]