Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration

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The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was an Australian court that is now defunct. It 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 industrial conciliation commissions, which had jurisdiction over all disputes which occurred within their respective 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 the Court's early acts was the setting of 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 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]

In 1956, the High Court in the Boilermakers' case held that the Commonwealth 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 has come to stand for the important doctrine of the separation of powers in Australia. Following the decision, two new bodies were created to perform the function of the defunct Court. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was created in 1956 to carry out the non-judicial functions. It was renamed the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1973, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in 1988, and the Fair Work Commission in 2010. The Commonwealth Industrial Court was created to exercise judicial powers. In 1973 the Court was renamed the Australian Industrial Court, and in 1997 most of its functions were transferred to the Federal Court of Australia.

List of Presidents / Chief Judges[edit]

No. Image President / Chief Judge Term of office Nominating
Prime Minister
1 Justice Richard O'Connor.jpg O'Connor, Justice RichardJustice Richard O'Connor 1905-1907
2 Justice H. B. Higgins.jpg Higgins, Justice H. B.Justice H. B. Higgins 1907-1921
3 Justice Charles Powers.jpg Powers, Justice CharlesJustice Charles Powers 1921–1925
4 Justice George Dethridge.jpg Dethridge, Justice GeorgeJustice George Dethridge 1925-1938
5 Justice George Beeby.jpg Beeby, Justice GeorgeJustice George Beeby 1939-1941
6 Justice Harold Piper.jpg Piper, Justice HaroldJustice Harold Piper 1941-1947
7 Justice Edmund Drake-Brockman.jpg Drake-Brockman, Justice EdmundJustice Edmund Drake-Brockman 1947-1949
8 Justice William Kelly.jpg Kelly, Justice WilliamJustice William Kelly 1949-1956


  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". Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Archived from the original (http) on January 5, 2006. Retrieved 18 January 2006.