|Description of this AgencyDescription of this Agency|
Until 1890 the central administration of public health had been the responsibility of the Central Board of Health which was located in the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475).
Establishment of the Department of Public Health
In 1890 following a Royal Commission to Inquire into and report upon the Sanitary Condition of Melbourne (see Papers Presented to Parliament Volumes 2 and 4 1889 and Volume 2 1890) there were substantial changes to the administration of public health in Victoria. Following the proclamation of the Public Health Act 1889 (No.1044), the Chief Secretary, Alfred Deakin, was appointed Minister of Health (without salary) on 29 January 1890. The Central Board of Health was abolished and replaced by the Board of Public Health which was to be responsible for implementing the provisions of the Public Health Acts 1875-1889 and subsequent legislation. The Department of Public Health was responsible to the Board whose Chairman was the permanent head of the Department.
Functions associated with the administration of public health included:
the control and prevention of infectious and contagious diseases
establishing and enforcing standards of proper sanitation including waste disposal and collection and prevention of pollution
regulation of offensive and dangerous trades
establishing and enforcing standards for public buildings and dwelling houses and for the prevention of fires
registration and control of boarding houses and other accommodation venues and of premises where food is consumed
regulation of the preparation and sale of foods and medicines, including packaging and labelling standards
supervision of abattoirs and milk production
vaccination of children and infant welfare
administration of municipal or district hospitals
registration of hospitals
care and treatment of patients suffering from tuberculosis or cancer
registration of hairdressers, masseurs, tattooists, chiropodists, dietitians, plumbers and gasfitters
Board of Public Health/Department of Public Health
The Board of Public Health consisted of a Chairman, the Medical Inspector and seven representatives elected by the councils of municipal districts. Charles Alfred Topp was appointed Chairman of the Board from 31 January 1890. The Public Health Act also provided for the appointment of a medical inspector who was to be an expert in sanitary science and whose appointment was not subject to the provisions of the Public Service Act. The Act further authorised the appointment of "an engineering inspector, a secretary and such other inspectors, health officers, clerks and officers as may be deemed necessary", all of whom were to be members of the Public Service. Officers previously employed under the control of the Central Board of Health were transferred to the new Department of Public Health.
Existing local boards of health were abolished and the powers, duties and liabilities previously vested in the boards were to be vested in and executed by the municipal councils. Officers, inspectors, analysts and staff of the local boards became employees of municipal councils. The Minister was empowered to require the Board and local authorities to make certain regulations and bylaws and the Board could require local councils to appoint health officers, inspectors and analysts.
Responsibilities of the Department of Public Health
The Department of Public Health assumed responsibility for those functions previously administered by the officers of the Central Board of Health. These responsibilities had included the prevention, containment and treatment of infectious and contagious diseases; quarantine; hospitals for the reception of patients suffering from an infectious or contagious disease; the provision of medical aid to persons suffering from epidemic diseases; compulsory vaccination of children; the construction and maintenance of adequate drains and sewers; the regulation of noxious trades; the enforcement of proper standards of sanitation including waste disposal and collection; regulation of common lodging houses; prevention of pollution of the River Yarra; regulation of standards for public buildings; administration of local municipal hospitals; infant life protection and prevention of the adulteration of food, drink and medical drugs.
The Public Health Act 1889 included further provisions regarding the administration of these functions. The Act also enabled the Chairman, at the direction of the Board, to establish hospitals where local authorities failed to do so and the Board was empowered to recover its costs from the local councils. The Act further provided that councils which established district hospitals could seek reimbursement of fifty percent of their costs from consolidated revenue.
The Public Health Act 1889 empowered the Governor-in-Council to make regulations for the registration, inspection, drainage, good management and sanitary regulation of all hospitals and institutions which provided for the medical or surgical treatment or care of patients and which were not in receipt of aid from the State. The Board of Public Health and its officers in the Department were responsible for the enforcement of these regulations.
The Act also provided for the registration of plumbers and gasfitters by the Board of Public Health.
Establishment of Commission of Public Health 1920
In 1920, under the provisions of the Health Act 1919 (No.3041) the Board of Public Health was abolished and replaced by the Commission of Public Health (VA 694) which was to consist of seven members being the Chief Health Officer (formerly the Medical Inspector) who was to be chairman and six members to be appointed by the Governor-in-Council, of whom not more than two were to be medical practitioners and of whom three were to be representatives of metropolitan municipalities, non metropolitan cities, towns and boroughs and non metropolitan shires respectively.
The Commission was to be responsible for the promotion of public health and for the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the Health Act. In addition to the public health responsibilities inherited from the Board of Public Health, the Commission was to promote the prevention and suppression of infectious and preventable diseases; to advise the Minister on matters of public health; to carry our research and investigations, publish reports and hold inquiries into matters concerning public health and the prevention and treatment of disease; to advise and assist councils in regard to matters affecting public health and to prepare model bylaws for adoption by councils.
The Act provided for the appointment of a Chief Health Officer who was to be the permanent head of the Department of Public Health (VA 2904) and for the appointment of District Health Officers who were to be responsible to the Commission. As with previous legislation responsibility for the administration of the Health Act was shared between the Commission, the Department of Public Health (VA 2904) and local authorities.
Under the provisions of the Cemeteries Acts, trustees of public cemeteries were appointed by the Governor-in-Council. Trustees were responsible for the establishment and maintenance of public cemeteries and were empowered to determine rules and regulations for the management of cemeteries and a scale of fees, subject to the approval of the Governor-in-Council and publication in the Government Gazette.
In 1890, under the provisions of the Cemeteries Act 1890 (No.1072) and the Public Health Act 1889 (No.1044), the Department of Public Health became responsible for the administration of cemeteries, including the appointment of trustees.
Major Re-organisation of Health Services 1944
In 1890 when responsibility for public health was transferred to the Department of Public Health, responsibility for mental health had remained with the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). In 1944 with the proclamation of the Ministry of Health Act 1943 (No.4988) responsibility for all health services was transferred to the newly established Department of Health I (VA 695).
NOTE: For further information about the administration of health services in Victoria from 1836 to 1989, see VRG 39 Health.
Location of Records
The records of the Department of Public Health in the custody of the PRO are far from complete and there are no records held for the period prior to 1920. Researchers are advised to consult the list below and the List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.11.3. As municipal councils had a significant role in the administration of public health see also VRG 12 Municipalities and List of Holdings, section 10.0.0 (Municipalities). For records of individual health and welfare agencies see VRG 8 and List of Holdings section 8.0.0.