Harvester Judgment
The Harvester Judgment was a benchmark legal case for ensuring workers in Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 were paid a fair basic wage. The case had national ramifications and was of international significance.

The Harvester Judgment was delivered in the Australian Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration
Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration
The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is a defunct Australian court, which had jurisdiction to arbitrate interstate industrial disputes....

 by H.B. Higgins in 1907. The case involved one of Australia's largest employers, Hugh Victor McKay
Hugh Victor McKay
Hugh Victor McKay CBE, was an Australian inventor of the Sunshine Harvester and industrialist.-Early life:...

, the owner of the Sunshine Harvester Works
Sunshine Harvester Works
The Sunshine Harvester works, was an Australia factory operated by industrialist H. V. McKay. Having established an agricultural implement works in Ballarat he moved his factory and many of his employees to Braybrook Junction, in 1906,where he had earlier purchased the Braybrook Implement Works...

, a company which built agricultural machinery. Higgins ruled that McKay was obliged to pay his employees a wage that guaranteed them a standard of living which was reasonable for "a human being in a civilised community", regardless of his capacity to pay. This gave rise to the legal requirement for a basic wage, which dominated Australian economic life for the next 60 to 80 years.

Higgins had been appointed President of the newly created Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in 1907 and had been a Justice of the High Court of Australia
High Court of Australia
The High Court of Australia is the supreme court in the Australian court hierarchy and the final court of appeal in Australia. It has both original and appellate jurisdiction, has the power of judicial review over laws passed by the Parliament of Australia and the parliaments of the States, and...

 since 1906.

The hearing took place in Melbourne on several days between 7 October 1907 to 8 November 1907. Higgins heard evidence from employees of McKay's factory and also their wives. Higgins gave his judgment on 8 November 1907.

In defining a 'fair and reasonable wage', Higgins, without explicit acknowledgment, employed Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII
Pope Leo XIII , born Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci to an Italian comital family, was the 256th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, reigning from 1878 to 1903...

's Rerum Novarum
Rerum Novarum
Rerum Novarum is an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891. It was an open letter, passed to all Catholic bishops, that addressed the condition of the working classes. The encyclical is entitled: “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour”...

of 1891, an open letter to all the bishops that addressed the condition of the working classes. Higgins ruled that remuneration "must be enough to support the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort."

Higgins set a 'fair and reasonable' minimum wage for unskilled workers of 7/- (7 shillings), which is around 70 cents, or 42/- per week. Later surveys showed that this minimum was adequate to provide subsistence.

McKay successfully appealed the decision to the High Court, which allowed the appeal and overturned the decision, In R v Barger. The High Court found Higgins's decision constitutionally invalid because the legislation was essentially concerned with the regulation of employment conditions, a power not held by the Commonwealth Parliament and not capable of being supported by the excise power. The High Court further found a tax based on compliance with certain labour conditions which could differ from State to State was a discrimination within the meaning of section 51(ii) and a preference within the meaning of section 99. (16)

Notwithstanding that victory, Higgins' 1907 Harvester decision was regarded as a benchmark in Australian industrial case law. Despite the High Court's reversal, Higgins regarded the minimum wage as sacrosanct and applied the Harvester reasoning to subsequent judgments in his long and distinguished career as president of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

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