Higgins had been appointed President of the newly created Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in 1907 and had been a Justice of the High Court of Australia since 1906.
The hearing took place in Melbourne from October 7, 1907 to November 8, 1907. Higgins heard evidence from employees of McKay's factory and also their wives. In defining a 'fair and reasonable wage', Higgins employed Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum of 1891, an open letter to all the bishops that addressed the condition of the working classes. Higgins ruled that remuneration "must be enough to support the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort".
Higgins set a 'fair and reasonable' minimum wage for unskilled workers of 7/- (7 shillings), which is around 70 cents, or 42/- per week.
McKay successfully appealed the decision to the High Court. In R v Barger the High Court found Higgins's decision constitutionally invalid because the legislation was essentially concerned with the regulation of employment conditions, a power not held by the Commonwealth Parliament and not capable of being supported by the excise power. The High Court further found a tax based on compliance with certain labour conditions which could differ from State to State was a discrimination within the meaning of section 51(ii) and a preference within the meaning of section 99. (16)
Notwithstanding that victory, the 1907 Harvester decision was regarded as a benchmark in Australian industrial case law. Higgins regarded the minimum wage as sacrosanct and applied the Harvester reasoning to subsequent judgments in his long and distinguished career as president of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. While another view doubts it was realistic.