Australia since Federation Defining Moments, 1901–present
Investigation 5: Significant people
5.3 1907 Henry Higgins: A fair wage
Based on the Defining Moment in Australian history: 1907 A ‘fair and reasonable wage’ — ‘Harvester Judgement’ establishes a living wage
Imagine that you are a working person.
You have a family to support. You are paid less than it costs for you and your family to live comfortably. You have no say in what you are paid. But there is a court that can help.
What sort of things should a judge in that court take into account when deciding how much a person should be paid?
Discuss this question then see what happened with one person in Australia.
This is what Justice Henry Higgins had to decide in 1907.
Read the information below and use it to answer the Significant people in Australian history questions at the bottom.
Henry Bourne Higgins information file
Henry Bourne Higgins was born in 1851.
In 1907 he was a judge in the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. His job was to decide what was a fair basic or minimum wage for people to earn.
He investigated one employer, the Sunshine Harvester Works in Melbourne, as a case study for his decision.
He spoke to workers, to their families and to employers.
He investigated the cost of food, clothing, newspapers, rent, school fees, gas and electricity costs, and other things that families spend money on as part of their normal life.
He decided that the minimum wage that should be paid to a worker who has a family to support was two pounds and two shillings a week. Today this minimum wage would be about $700 a week.
The employer did not want to pay this amount, so the company went to the highest court in Australia — the High Court. The High Court said that Higgins’ decision was wrong.
However even though his decision was scrapped, the principle of a fair wage for a worker was kept, and from then on there has been a minimum wage paid to Australian workers.
Higgins died in 1929.
You can watch a video about Justice HB Higgins and the Harvester Judgement to find out more.
Significant people in Australian history
1. Who was the person?
2. When did they live?
3. Where did they live?
4. What did they do?
5. Why did they do this?
6. What problems did they have to overcome to succeed?
7. What happened to the person?
8. What was the outcome or effect of what they did?
9. What qualities did this person have?
10. Why was this person significant or important in Australian history?
11. If you could meet this person and ask them three questions, what would they be?
12. If you were advising the National Museum of Australia on an object that it could display to help tell their story, what would you suggest? You can see what objects the Museum has using the National Museum of Australia Collection Explorer.