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Tuesday, 30 April 1957

Mr Ward d asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -

1.   Did the Privy Council recently uphold a decision of the High Court of Australia to the effect that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration had no judicial powers and therefore possessed no right to fine or impose terms of imprisonment?

2.   Has the court, over a period of years, imposed fines on unions and officers of unions and has it imposed terms of imprisonment when, in fact, it had no legal power to do so?

3.   If so, does the Government propose to take action to have refunded the fines illegally imposed and to compensate those persons who were illegally imprisoned?

4.   If no action is proposed, what are the Government's reasons for not following this procedure?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. Over a number of years the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration has, in the exercise of powers conferred on it by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and other legislation, imposed fines and sentences of imprisonment and made orders which involved an exercise of the judicial power of the Commonwealth. In March, 1956, the High Court, in a case known as the " Boilermakers' " case, by a majority held that certain orders and penalties made against and imposed on the Boilermakers Society of Australia by the Arbitration Court were invalid. The majority judgment stated that the Arbitration Court being a body established primarily for the exercise of federal arbitral (i.e., non-judicial) power could not under the Constitution be invested with any part of the judicial power of the Commonwealth. The majority judgment further held that the Constitution does not enable the vesting in a federal court of non-judicial powers that are not ancillary but are directed to a non-judicial purpose. The majority decision of the High Court was upheld by the Privy Council on 19th March last. 3 and 4. These are matters of government policy.

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