Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

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Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Parliament of Australia
An act relating to Conciliation and Arbitration for the Prevention and Settlement of Industrial Disputes extending beyond the Limits of any one State
Date of Royal Assent 15 December 1904
Introduced by Free Trade Party led by George Reid
Status: Repealed

The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904[1] was a law passed by the Parliament of Australia in 1904. Its full title was an Act "relating to Conciliation and Arbitration for the Prevention and Settlement of Industrial Disputes extending beyond the Limits of any one State", and received assent on 15 December 1904, almost four years after the Federation of Australia.

The Act sought to introduced the rule of law in industrial relations in Australia and, besides other things, established the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

The Act was superseded by the Industrial Relations Act 1988 and repealed by the Industrial Relations (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988 with effect on 1 March 1989.

Objects of the Act[edit]

The chief objects of this Act were:

  • to prevent lock-outs and strikes in relation to industrial disputes
  • to constitute a Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration having jurisdiction for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes
  • to provide for the exercise of the jurisdiction of the Court by conciliation with a view to amicable agreement between the parties
  • in default of amicable agreement between the parties, to provide for the exercise of the jurisdiction of the Court by equitable award
  • to enable States to refer industrial disputes to the Court, and to permit the working of the Court and of State Industrial Authorities in aid of each other
  • to facilitate and encourage the organization of representative bodies of employers and of employees and the submission of industrial disputes to the Court by organizations, and to permit representative bodies of employers and of employees to be declared organizations for the purposes of this Act
  • to provide for the making and enforcement of industrial agreements between employers and employees in relation to industrial disputes.

History[edit]

The scope of the legislation was very controversial at the time, resulting in changes of governments of Alfred Deakin (Protectionist), Chris Watson (Labor), and George Reid (Free Trade).

The Bill was drafted and introduced by Charles Kingston, Australia's pioneer of compulsory arbitration, drawing on New Zealand legislation (New Zealand's Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894). Kingston was a Minister in Deakin's Protectionist Party Government, which was supported by the Labour Party. In July 1903, Kingston resigned suddenly from Deakin's government in a fit of anger over the opposition of John Forrest and Edmund Barton to his attempt to impose conciliation and arbitration on British and foreign seamen engaged in the Australian coastal trade.

Labor members also withdrew their support for Deakin in April 1904 over the industrial relations law, resulting in the fall of the Deakin government. Reid Free Trade Party refused to form government, leading to the formation of the first Labour government led by Watson. Watson's government lasted only four months and was succeeded in August 1904 by Reid's which agreed to Labor's amendment to cover State government employees, and the Bill was passed with Labour's support.

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