Union Steamship Co of Australia Pty Ltd v King [1988] HCA 55

In Union Steamship Co of Australia Pty Ltd v King [1988] HCA 55 the respondent was a seaman employed by the appellant company. He developed boilermaker’s deafness as a result of working and sought a compensation claim for an injury occurring on a ship anywhere in the world. Because it operated extraterritorially, the appellant company argued it wasn’t for the ‘peace, welfare and good government of NSW’. The Court of Appeal dismissed this argument and it was appealed to the High Court. 

The case centered on the constitutional framework of the States and the move to independence, and the meaning of the words ‘peace, welfare and good government of New South Wales’ in terms of granting the State powers to make laws.

It was held that the phrase conveys a general sense of promoting the welfare of the community, the court cited Broken Hill South Ltd v. Commissioner of Taxation (NSW) (1937) 56 CLR 337 where Dixon J supports this. It was further held that it establishes plenary power, with reference to Privy Council decisions at beginning of the 19th century, including Reg v. Burah (1878) 3 AppCas 889 and Hodge v. The Queen (1883) 9 AppCas 117, which were used to confirm these are extremely wide powers. The court referenced Croft v. Dunphy (1933) AC 156 as precedent of colonial legislatures operating extraterritorially, and held that the grant of power is as expansive as that of the Imperial Parliament, which didn’t have any territorial restraint, and hence NSW parliament didn’t either. The court agreed with Gibbs J. in Pearce v Florenca (1976) 135 CLR 507 that even if there is a very remote and general connection between the subject matter of the legislation and the State, then this will suffice. Hence, the fact that the Ship is registered in NSW is a sufficient connection to enable the Parliament to apply its laws regarding worker’s compensation benefits. The appeal was dismissed.

“These decisions and statements of high authority demonstrate that, within the limits of the grant, a power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of a territory is as ample and plenary as the power possessed by the Imperial Parliament itself. That is, the words “for the peace, order and good government” are not words of limitation. They did not confer on the courts of a colony, just as they do not confer on the courts of a State, jurisdiction to strike down legislation on the ground that, in the opinion of a court, the legislation does not promote or secure the peace, order and good government of the colony. Just as the courts of the United Kingdom cannot invalidate laws made by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on the ground that they do not secure the welfare and the public interest, so the exercise of its legislative power by the Parliament of New South Wales is not susceptible to judicial review on that score. Whether the exercise of that legislative power is subject to some restraints by reference to rights deeply rooted in our democratic system of government and the common law (see Drivers v. Road Carriers (1982) 1 NZLR 374, at p 390; Fraser v. State Services Commission (1984) 1 NZLR 116, at p 121; Taylor v. New Zealand Poultry Board (1984) 1 NZLR 394, at p 398), a view which Lord Reid firmly rejected in Pickin v. British Railways Board (1974) AC 765, at p 782, is another question which we need not explore.

Click to access union-steamship-co-of-australia-pty-ltd-v-king-1988-hca-55.pdf