Making liberal citizens: Justice Higgins and his witnesses

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In the Commonwealth Arbitration Court's treatment of women workers the contradictions and tensions of liberal citizenship in post-federation Australia are sharply manifest. A meaningful sense of citizenship required economic rights and economic independence as a basis for participation in the public sphere, a civic participation offered to men but denied to women. The Commonwealth and state industrial tribunals played a key role in defining the gendered spheres of citizenship: transforming citizenship from a vague concept of rights and duties to an active relationship between liberal subject and state required specific interventions to promote self-government, and within discrete systems of governance. The specific interventions under consideration here are two cases that established the Commonwealth Arbitration Court's discrimination against women in the payment of wages, as the Court's president, Justice Henry Bournes Higgins, grappled with the 'problem' of female labour: in the 1912 Fruitpickers case, where the witnesses called before Higgins, told him that discriminating against women in the payment of wages was unjust and could undermine the stable nation-building that Higgins' living wage was intended to promote, and the 1919 Clothing Trades or Archer case, as Higgins struggled to impose his conception of citizenship on women workers, whose needs and rights challenged Higgins, and confronted him with successful invaders of his new province for law and order.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-72
Number of pages16
JournalLabour History
Issue number93
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007


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