Henry Bournes Higgins
|Justice of the High Court of Australia|
13 October 1906 –13 January 1929
|Nominated by||Alfred Deakin|
|Appointed by||Lord Northcote|
|Preceded by||none (new seat)|
|Succeeded by||Sir Owen Dixon|
|Attorney-General of Australia|
27 April 1904 –17 August 1904
|Prime Minister||Chris Watson|
|Preceded by||James Drake|
|Succeeded by||Josiah Symon|
|Member of the Australian Parliament for Northern Melbourne|
30 March 1901 –12 October 1906
|Preceded by||Seat Created|
|Succeeded by||Seat Abolished|
|Born||30 June 1851|
|Died||13 January 1929 77) (aged|
Mary Alice Morrison
|Relations|| Ina Higgins (sister)|
Nettie Palmer (niece)
Esmonde Higgins (nephew)
George Ernest Morrison (brother-in-law)
Henry Bournes Higgins KC (30 June 1851 –13 January 1929) was an Australian lawyer,politician,and judge. He served on the High Court of Australia from 1906 until his death in 1929,after briefly serving as Attorney-General of Australia in 1904.
Higgins was born in what is now Northern Ireland. He and his family emigrated to Australia when he was 18,and he found work as a schoolteacher while studying law part-time at the University of Melbourne. He was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1876,and built up a substantial practice specialising in equity law. Higgins came to public attention as a prominent supporter of Irish Home Rule. He was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1894,and represented Victoria at the Australasian Federal Convention,where he helped draft the new federal constitution. He nonetheless opposed the final draft,making him one of only two delegates to the convention to campaign against federation.
In 1901,Higgins was elected to the new federal parliament as a member of the Protectionist Party. He was sympathetic to the labour movement,and in 1904 briefly served as Attorney-General in the Labor Party minority government led by Chris Watson. In 1906,Prime Minister Alfred Deakin decided to expand the High Court bench from three to five members,nominating Higgins and Isaac Isaacs to the court. Higgins was usually in the minority in his early years on the court,but in later years the composition of the court changed and he was more often in the majority. He also served as president of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration from 1907 to 1921. In that capacity,he wrote the decision in the influential Harvester case ,holding that a legislative provision for a "fair and reasonable" wage effectively required a living wage.
He was born in Newtownards,County Down,Ireland,the son of The Rev. John Higgins,a Methodist minister,and Anne Bournes,daughter of Henry Bournes of Crossmolina. Ina Higgins,an early feminist,was his sister and Nettie Palmer,poet,essayist and literary critic,was a niece. The Rev. Higgins and his family emigrated to Australia in 1870.
H. B. Higgins was educated at Wesley College in central Dublin,Ireland,and at the University of Melbourne,where he graduated in law. He practised at the Melbourne bar from 1876,eventually becoming one of the city's leading barristers (a KC in 1903) and a wealthy man. He was active in liberal,radical,and Irish nationalist politics,as well as in many civic organisations. He was also a noted classical scholar.
In 1894,Higgins was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as MLA for Geelong. He was a supporter of George Turner's liberal government,but frequently criticised it from a left-wing point of view. He supported advanced liberal positions,such as greater protection for workers,government investment in industry,and votes for women. In 1897,he was elected as one of Victoria's delegates to the convention which drew up the Australian Constitution. At the convention,he successfully argued that the constitution should contain a guarantee of religious freedom,and also a provision giving the federal government the power to make laws relating to the conciliation and arbitration of industrial disputes.
Despite these successes,he opposed the draft constitution produced by the convention as too conservative,and campaigned unsuccessfully to have it defeated at the 1899 Australian constitutional referendum. This alienated him most of his liberal colleagues,and also from the influential Melbourne newspaper, The Age . Higgins also opposed Australian involvement in the Second Boer War,a very unpopular stand at the time,and as a result,he lost his seat at the 1900 Victorian election.
In 1901,when federation under the new constitution came into effect,Higgins was elected to the first House of Representatives for the working-class electorate of Northern Melbourne. He stood as a Protectionist,but the Labor Party did not oppose him,regarding him as a supporter of the labour movement. The Labor Party's confidence in him was shown in 1904,when Chris Watson formed the first federal Labor government. Since the party did not have a suitably qualified lawyer,Watson offered the post of Attorney-General to Higgins. He is the only person to have held office in a federal Labor government without being a member of the Labor Party.
Robert Garran,the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department,found Higgins difficult to work with,stating that "for the first week or two I could not induce him to sign even the most routine and trivial paper until after a full explanation [...] the slowing-up of the machine was often embarrassing".Higgins also received criticism for his failure to regularly attend parliament,which left Watson and Billy Hughes having to explain his ministerial actions. The Melbourne Argus remarked that he "attends sometimes for prayers and retires spiritually refreshed". He was also attacked by The Bulletin ,which observed that he "has had an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate his worth as legal ally of the Government,and all the demonstration that he has effected in the House could be contained in a paper bag". According to Ross McMullin,Higgins "approved of the Labor Party and its objectives [...] but he remained outside the party and did not identify himself with it". However,his contributions to cabinet discussions were appreciated by his colleagues,and Watson was happy to defend him against the attacks from the media.
Higgins was an awkward colleague for the Protectionist leadership,and in 1906 Deakin appointed him as a Justice of the High Court of Australia as a means of getting him out of politics,although he was undoubtedly qualified for the post. In 1907,he was also appointed President of the newly created Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration,created to arbitrate disputes between trades unions and employers,something Higgins had long advocated. In this role,he continued to support the labour movement,although he was strongly opposed to militant unions who abused the strike weapon and ignored his rulings.
Higgins was one of only eight justices of the High Court to have served in the Parliament of Australia prior to his appointment to the Court;the others were Edmund Barton,Richard O'Connor,Isaac Isaacs,Edward McTiernan,John Latham,Garfield Barwick,and Lionel Murphy. He was also one of two justices to have served in the Parliament of Victoria,along with Isaac Isaacs.
In 1907,Higgins delivered a judgement which became famous in Australian history,known as the "Harvester Judgement". The case involved one of Australia's largest employers,Hugh McKay,a manufacturer of agricultural machinery. Higgins ruled that McKay was obliged to pay his employees a wage that guaranteed them a standard of living that 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 80 years.
During World War I,Higgins increasingly came into conflict with the Nationalist Prime Minister Billy Hughes,whom he saw as using the wartime emergency to erode civil liberties. Although Higgins initially supported the war,he opposed the extension of government power that came with it,and also opposed Hughes' attempt to introduce conscription for the war. In 1916,his only son Mervyn was killed in action in Egypt,a tragedy which made Higgins turn increasingly against the war.
The postwar years saw a series of bitter industrial confrontations,some of them fomented by militant unions influenced by the Industrial Workers of the World or the Communist Party of Australia. Higgins defended the principles of arbitration against both the Hughes Government and militant unions,although he found this increasingly difficult. Postwar governments appointed conservative justices to the High Court,leaving Higgins increasingly more isolated. In 1920,he resigned from the Arbitration Court in frustration,but remained on the High Court bench until his death in 1929. In 1922,he published A New Province for Law and Order,a defence of his views and record on arbitration.
On 19 December 1885,Higgins married Mary Alice Morrison,the daughter of George Morrison,headmaster of Geelong College,and the sister of the journalist George Ernest Morrison. Their only child,Mervyn Bournes Higgins,was born in 1887,and was killed in action in Egypt in 1916.
After his son Mervyn's death,Higgins effectively adopted his nephew Esmonde Higgins,and his niece Nettie Palmer, paying for their education at universities in Europe. He was pained by Esmonde's conversion to Communism in 1920 and his rejection of the liberal values associated with the Higgins name.
Aside from politics,he was president of the Carlton Football Club in 1904.
Higgins was remembered for many years as a great friend of the labour movement,of the Irish-Australian community and of liberal and progressive causes generally. He was well-served by his first biographer,his niece Nettie Palmer,whose Henry Bournes Higgins:A Memoir (1931) created an enduring Higgins mythology. John Rickard's 1984 H. B. Higgins:The Rebel as Judge partly demolished this myth,but was a generally sympathetic biography.The H.B. Higgins Chambers in Sydney,founded by radical industrial lawyers,is named for him.
Further,Higgins is commemorated by the federal electorate of Higgins in Melbourne,and by the Canberra suburb of Higgins,Australian Capital Territory.
Andrew Fisher was an Australian politician who served three separate terms as Prime Minister of Australia –from 1908 to 1909,from 1910 to 1913,and from 1914 to 1915. He was the leader of the Australian Labor Party from 1907 to 1915.
Alfred Deakin was an Australian politician who served as the second Prime Minister of Australia. He was a leader of the movement for Federation,which occurred in 1901. During his three terms as prime minister over the subsequent decade he played a key role in establishing national institutions.
John Christian Watson was an Australian politician who served as the third prime minister of Australia,in office from 27 April to 18 August 1904. He served as the inaugural federal leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1901 to 1907 and was the first member of the party to serve as prime minister.
The Protectionist Party or Liberal Protectionist Party was an Australian political party,formally organised from 1887 until 1909,with policies centred on protectionism. The party advocated protective tariffs,arguing it would allow Australian industry to grow and provide employment. It had its greatest strength in Victoria and in the rural areas of New South Wales. Its most prominent leaders were Sir Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin,who were the first and second prime ministers of Australia.
Janet Gertrude "Nettie" Palmer was an Australian poet,essayist and Australia's leading literary critic of her day. She corresponded with women writers and collated the Centenary Gift Book which gathered together writing by Victorian women.
The Watson Ministry (Labour) was the 3rd ministry of the Government of Australia,and the first national Labour government formed in the world. It was led by the country's 3rd Prime Minister,Chris Watson. The Watson Ministry succeeded the First Deakin Ministry,which dissolved on 27 April 1904 after Labour withdrew their support and Alfred Deakin was forced to resign. The ministry was replaced by the Reid Ministry on 17 August 1904 after the Protectionist Party withdrew their support over the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.
Richard Edward O'Connor was an Australian politician and judge.
Sir William Hill Irvine was an Australian politician and judge. He served as Premier of Victoria (1902–1904),Attorney-General of Australia (1913–1914),and Chief Justice of Victoria (1918–1935).
Sir Littleton Ernest Groom KCMG KC was an Australian politician. He held ministerial office under four prime ministers between 1905 and 1925,and subsequently served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1926 to 1929.
Allan McLean was an Australian politician who served as the 19th Premier of Victoria,in office from 1899 to 1900. He was later elected to federal parliament,where he served as a government minister under George Reid.
The reserved powers doctrine was a principle used by the inaugural High Court of Australia in the interpretation of the Constitution of Australia,that emphasised the context of the Constitution,drawing on principles of federalism,what the Court saw as the compact between the newly formed Commonwealth and the former colonies,particularly the compromises that informed the text of the constitution. The doctrine involved a restrictive approach to the interpretation of the specific powers of the Federal Parliament to preserve the powers that were intended to be left to the States. The doctrine was challenged by the new appointments to the Court in 1906 and was ultimately abandoned by the High Court in 1920 in the Engineers' Case,replaced by an approach to interpretation that emphasised the text rather than the context of the Constitution.
The 1901 Australian federal election for the inaugural Parliament of Australia was held in Australia on Friday 29 March and Saturday 30 March 1901. The elections followed Federation and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. All 75 seats in the Australian House of Representatives,six of which were uncontested,as well as all 36 seats in the Australian Senate,were up for election.
Ex parte H.V. McKay,commonly referred to as the Harvester case,is a landmark Australian labour law decision of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The case arose under the Excise Tariff Act 1906 which imposed an excise duty on goods manufactured in Australia,£6 in the case of a stripper harvester,however if a manufacturer paid "fair and reasonable" wages to its employees,it was be excused from paying the excise duty. The Court therefore had to consider what was a "fair and reasonable" wage for the purpose of the act.
R v Barger is a High Court of Australia case where the majority held that the taxation power could not be used by the Australian Parliament to indirectly regulate the working conditions of workers. In this case,an excise tariff was imposed on manufacturers,with an exemption being available for those who paid "fair and reasonable" wages to their employees.
The history of the Australian Labor Party has its origins in the Labour parties founded in the 1890s in the Australian colonies prior to federation. Labor tradition ascribes the founding of Queensland Labour to a meeting of striking pastoral workers under a ghost gum tree in Barcaldine,Queensland in 1891. The Balmain,New South Wales branch of the party claims to be the oldest in Australia. Labour as a parliamentary party dates from 1891 in New South Wales and South Australia,1893 in Queensland,and later in the other colonies.
The first Deakin Government was the second federal executive government of the Commonwealth of Australia. It was led by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin,from 24 September 1903 until 27 April 1904. Deakin was the second Prime Minister of Australia,but served as Prime Minister again from 1905–1908 and 1909–1910 –see Second Deakin Government and Third Deakin Government.
The Watson Government was the third federal executive government of the Commonwealth of Australia. It was led by Prime Minister Chris Watson of the Australian Labor Party from 27 April 1904 to 18 August 1904. The Watson Government was the first Labor Party national government in both Australia and in the world. Watson was aged just 37 when he became Prime Minister of Australia,and remains the youngest person to have held the post.
The Reid Government refers to the period of federal executive government of Australia led by Prime Minister George Reid. It lasted from 18 August 1904 - 5 July 1905. Reid was the one and only Prime Minister of Australia to belong to the Free Trade Party. Allan McLean of the Protectionist Party served as deputy.
The Deakin Government (1905-1908) refers to the period of federal executive government of Australia led by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. It lasted from 5 July 1905 to 13 November 1908. Deakin was the second Prime Minister of Australia having previously led the Deakin Government (1903-1904),and held the office again in 1909–1910.
Esmonde Macdonald Higgins was an Australian political activist and adult education proponent. He was a prominent figure in the early years of the Communist Party of Australia,serving as editor of its official newspaper and running its agitprop department. However,he later became disillusioned with the party and concentrated on his work with the Workers' Educational Association (WEA).