Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

The Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 was an Australian Commonwealth Government Act "relating to Conciliation and Arbitration for the Prevention and Settlement of Industrial (workplace) Disputes extending beyond the Limits of any one State", and was assented to on 15 December 1904, almost four years after federation. Alfred Deakin (Protectionist), Chris Watson (Labor), and George Reid (Free Trade) all served at one point as Prime Minister in 1904 due to disagreements over the specifics of the bill.

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.

This document introduced the rule of law in industrial relations for the whole nation by establishing the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The Bill was drafted and introduced by Charles Cameron Kingston, Australia's pioneer of compulsory arbitration, drawing on New Zealand legislation (New Zealand's Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894). Kingston resigned when Cabinet refused to allow the Bill to cover seamen on coastal ships. Labor Members succeeded in introducing an amendment to have the Bill cover State government employees, a provision Deakin believed to be unconstitutional.

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