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Australian Legislation 1901–1914
Transcript of Australian Legislation 1901–1914
The Harvester Judgement
Since 1904, wages were supposed to be `fair and reasonable' but there was no clear definition of what this meant. In 1907, the Conciliation and Arbitration Court made an important decision in the case Ex parte H. V. McKay (1907), better known as the Harvester Case. (The name derived from the fact that the company that featured in the court case, H. V. McKay, was a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, including the Sunshine Harvester.)
The court president, Justice Higgins, established the idea of a living or basic wage. He ruled that a `fair and reasonable wage' for an unskilled man was the equivalent of roughly $4.20 a week. He based this on `the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilised community'. This basic wage was the minimum amount any male worker could expect to be paid to support a wife and three children. (The `basic wage' varied from state to state, as Justice Higgins's decision applied only to Commonwealth workers.) Justice Higgins believed that the needs of the worker were more important than the boss's ability to pay and this strengthened the opinion that Australia was a `working man's paradise'.
Invalid and Old age pension
People of old age, who were respectable (judged by doctor), who were injured or too sick to work received a pension. It was below an average wage, but it was enough for them to buy basics. This was available in Victoria, queensland and nsw all established an old age pension. People who lived in those states were eligible for the pension. This was called a residence qualification. Due to financial considerations, the federal government took longer to introduce the invalid and old age pension. The money allocated were from the income gained from custom duties and levies.
Maternity Allowance Scheme
The Maternity allowance scheme became known as the 'baby bonus.' It was paid to all white, married mothers after 1912. It was introduced due to the decline of the birth rate, the wage was 5 pounds. However, the allowance made little impact.
Source: Prime minister Andrew Fisher, Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 24 September 1912, vol.66
A White Australia
One feature of Australian nationalism was the belief that the white race that made up the new nation was also superior to other races. After creating one Australia in 1901, Australians now set out to create a white Australia.
This racist element in our early history was hardly questioned at the time. It was shared by the leading politicians and by all political parties and the newspapers. In 1907 the Bulletin changed its banner slogan from ‘Australia for the Australians’ to ‘Australia for the White Man’. The one thing that united all levels of society was a fear of Asia and the non-white races, and a determination to keep Australia white.
There were a number of reasons why Australians believed in a White Australia Policy:
Australia was a new nation of mainly white people of British origin in a region of the world where there were very few other white races. There was a real sense of isolation and a fear of the larger numbers of Asian peoples to the north.
Australians not only had a distrust of other races but also a belief that they were in some way superior to them. There was a belief that the white races, particularly the British and the Europeans who carved out the great world empires, were superior to non-Europeans and that some races were in fact inferior.
Australian workers feared that non-white people coming from Asia would work for less money and accept lower working conditions. As the Labor movement and the trade unions fought to improve the conditions of the working class in the years after Federation, it supported all attempts to restrict the entry into Australia of people who could in any way undermine the interests of Australian workers.
One of the first laws passed by the new Australian parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act which set up the White Australia Policy. There was no political division over the issue and all the major politicians supported the bill. Edmund Barton, the first prime minister, who introduced the bill to parliament said:
Immigration Restriction Act 1901
I do not think that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, comparison with white races ... unequal and inferior.
Edmund Barton, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 September 1901, p. 5233.
While all the politicians agreed on the idea of keeping non-white races out of Australia,
they could not all agree on how the new law would achieve this. Barton wanted a dictation
test to be part of the new law. People seeking to enter the country could be required to
do a fifty-word written dictation test in ‘a European language directed by the officer’. The
concept had been borrowed from the British in South Africa. The Labor Party wanted
to go further and simply ban anyone from Asia or Africa from being allowed into the
country. They were concerned that some non-white races, particularly the Japanese, were
more educated and could get around the dictation test.
At this time the Japanese were the most advanced of the Asian states and they were
very sensitive to the idea of the White Australia Policy and the suggestion that the white
race was in some way superior to the Asian races. At this time Britain was also seeking
to form an alliance with Japan for political and military reasons (the Anglo–Japanese
Alliance was signed in 1902). While Britain could not stop Australia from passing the
Immigration Restriction Act, it made it clear that it did not support a total ban on nonwhite
entry and tried to put pressure on Australia to relax the restrictions as they applied
to the Japanese.
The dictation test
The dictation test was introduced and it was to remain in force until 1958. The law said
that a person could be denied entry to the country if the person ‘when asked to do so by
an officer fails to write out at dictation and sign in the presence of the officer a passage of
fifty words in length in a European language directed by the officer’.
In the years before Federation, Pacific Islanders
had been bought to Queensland to work in the
cane fields, and by 1901 there were nearly 9000
Islanders working in the state. The issue of Pacific
Islanders (sometimes called Kanakas) working
in Queensland had been part of the Federation
debate, as people argued that immigration could
only be controlled if there was one immigration
policy for the whole country. Since the sugar industry was important to Queensland, it
was one of the reasons that Queensland was reluctant to support Federation.
The Pacific Islander Labourers Act, passed in 1901, was the second measure that set up
the White Australia Policy. The aim of this Act was to remove the Pacific Islanders from
Australia. With this law, no more Pacific Islanders were allowed to enter the country, and
those who had not been born in Australia (about 7000) were to be deported.
Pacific Islander Labourers Act
Workers compensation was a scheme to provide
payments to Commonwealth employees who suffered
a work-related accident or disease. Although it
did not apply to most workers under state awards,
it provided a model that could be introduced by
Workers Compensation Act 1912
The Conciliation and Arbitration Court was very much an Australian initiative. Established in 1904, its aim was to settle disagreements between employers and trade unions by acting as a `referee' and coming up with an agreement on work issues and conditions that would be fair to both sides.
Only trade unions could deal with the Conciliation and Arbitration Court on behalf of workers and, as a result, there was a great increase in trade union membership between 1906 and 1914. Originally, decisions of the court applied only to national disputes between workers and bosses in more than one state but, by 1914, disputes within only one state could be resolved if the workers were part of an Australia-wide union.
The Conciliation and Arbitration Court
Complete the source based activities on the worksheet that you have received in class