Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

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The Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 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 (workplace) Disputes extending beyond the Limits of any one State", and received assent on 15 December 1904, almost four years after federation.

The Act introduced the rule of law in industrial relations for Australia by establishing the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.

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.


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 and drawing on New Zealand legislation (New Zealand's Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894). In July 1903, Kingston resigned suddenly from Deakin's Protectionist Party 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, resulting in the fall of the government. Reid 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, with Labor support, passed Labor's amendment to have the Bill cover State government employees, a provision Deakin believed to be unconstitutional.


See also[edit]