PDF The Harvester [with Biographical Introduction]

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Please try again later. Innovations included a revolutionary new steel foundry, moulding by machine, a bolt-manufacturing department, and a sawmill and woodworking department using McKay timber. George McKay was works manager.


In declining Ballarat the Sunshine Harvester Works was the great success-story. Year-round production guaranteed employment to some loyal workers by The works fielded cricket teams, the 'Sunshine' choir sang in the South Street competition, and the employees marched as a body on Eight Hours' Day. McKay's meteoric rise made his success seem fortuitous, but few observers could have been aware of the nervous energy required to sustain what was really a risky and fragile business.

But competition, local and overseas, was cut-throat, the weather exposed the business to sudden slumps, and the short harvest demanded absolute reliability of his harvester and of replacement and repair services. Generous warranties and extended credit terms for machines, together with the rapid expansion of the works, meant that McKay operated on substantial bank overdrafts and loans. Sea and rail supply-lines for fuel, raw materials, subcontracted parts and finished machines made a seaboard location imperative.

At the northern and western rail-junction this site had an additional advantage. Being within a shire and requiring an Order in Council to bring it under a wages board determination, it offered shelter from a system to which McKay was implacably opposed.

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He had stated before the royal commission on factories and shops laws that market forces should determine wage levels, through individual bargaining. In he had helped to form the Ballarat Chamber of Manufactures which campaigned against wages boards, and when a board was mooted in his industry he threatened variously to replace workers by machines, to move his business interstate, and to send his patterns to America and assemble his machines from imported parts. When the Ironmoulders' Wages Board's determination restricted the number of juveniles and improvers in , McKay appealed to the government, obtained a secret undertaking from premier Bent that the determination would not be extended to Braybrook, and moved his works there.

McKay's evasion of the wages board did not endear him as a high tariff protectionist to his Victorian competitors or to the union movement.

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Business rivals accused him of hypocrisy; Laborites, including Tom Mann , branded him a free trader in humans. McKay argued that the low Federal tariff left him vulnerable to unfair competition from overseas manufacturers supplying larger markets and enjoying cheaper labour, raw materials and freight. Further, he asserted that the stripper-harvester, pirated by Americans, was being dumped below cost in Australia in an attempt to destroy the local industry.

Workers and protectionists formed the Harvester Defence League to demand a higher tariff, but critics suspected that McKay was taking refuge in patriotism to disguise his fear of competition from fellow-Britishers Massey Harris of Canada, who appear to have been exporting machines copied from Morrow's Union Harvester, not only to Australia but to South America. The commission's reports of August recommended increased duties, and a doubling of those on stripper-harvesters, subject to the outlawing of combines, and the suspension of duties where manufacturers made unwarranted price increases or failed to pay 'a fair and reasonable rate of wages'.

The Deakin government responded with its New Protection legislation, designed to spread the benefits of tariff protection to workers and consumers. Despite legal advice that the Excise Tariff Agricultural Machinery Act was unconstitutional, McKay applied for exemption from excise duties, and Justice Higgins selected his as the test case.


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In his celebrated Harvester judgment of November , Higgins, while praising the Sunshine Harvester Works as 'a marvel of enterprise, energy and pluck', decided that 'the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being in a civilized community', dictated that an unskilled labourer should be paid a minimum of seven shillings a day of eight hours, and that as some wage rates at Sunshine were below this McKay could not be exempted.

The government looked for a compromise, but McKay determined on confrontation, forcing the government into the role of debt-collector.

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He challenged the constitutionality of the Excise Act, which was declared ultra vires by the High Court of Australia in The Harvester judgment made McKay an instant convert to the Victorian wages board system, but his behaviour boosted unionism and strengthened worker interest in Federal conciliation and arbitration. Not surprisingly, McKay was disappointed with the decision. He refused to pay the excise tax and took the case to the High Court of which Higgins was also a judge.

In , the High Court ruled that the Harvester Judgement was unconstitutional, invalid and void, because the Constitution permitted the Commonwealth to levy customs and excise duties but not to determine wages and working conditions.

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However, the concept that employers should take into account the needs of workers and their families became the starting point for all minimum wage negotiations in Australia up until the s and has helped the nation become a world leader in setting minimum wages and conditions for workers. John Rickard, H.

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The National Museum of Australia acknowledges First Australians and recognises their continuous connection to country, community and culture. Defining Moments Harvester Judgement.

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National Library of Australia obj Justice Henry Bourne Higgins, I selected Mr McKay's application out of some applications made by Victorian manufacturers because I found that the factory was one of the largest, and had the greatest numbers and variety of employees; and because his application was to be keenly fought. Sunshine Harvester Company In the same year that the court was established, the Victorian industrialist Hugh Victor McKay moved his agricultural implements manufacturing concern, the Sunshine Harvester Company, from Ballarat to the Melbourne suburb of Braybrook, which was renamed Sunshine three years later.

Postcard of Sunshine Harvester Works, Victoria, Artist unknown, Museums Victoria Fair and reasonable wages In , the federal government passed the Excise Tariff Act as a means of progressing its arbitration agenda. Judgement In his judgement, Higgins calculated that a fair and reasonable wage for manual workers was seven shillings per day or 42 shillings per week.

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