Group VRG 36
Water Supply
About this Group Related Agencies Related Functions
Date Range: 1880 - 1984
 
Description of this GroupDescription of this Group
Water Supply

In 1880 a Commissioner (subsequently a Minister) of Water Supply was appointed, assuming the responsibilities for rural water supply previously exercised by the Minister for Mines (VRG 30). Responsibility for Melbourne and metropolitan water supply and sewerage remained in the hands of the Minister for Public Works (VRG 28) until 1891 when it too passed to the Minister for Water Supply. However throughout the period 1880 to 1984, water resource management in Victoria continued to be divided geographically between authorities responsible for rural Victoria on the one hand and the Melbourne and metropolitan area on the other.

The Minister also had responsibility for closer and soldier settlement schemes in irrigation areas between 1912 and 1932 and during the post-World War II period, and was an early sponsor of soil conservation in Victoria.

Rural Water Supply

The responsibilities for rural water supply inherited from the Minister for Mines had developed from that Minister's early role in regulating water supply to the goldfields. From 1865 statutory responsibility for rural water works rested with the Board of Land and Works (VA 744). Under the Waterworks Act of 1865 the Board was given the power to construct rural water works, purchase land, levy charges and lease or sell works, while the Public Loans Act of 1865 empowered it to provide loans to local water authorities for water works. The actual administration of these statutory provisions was undertaken by the Victorian Water Supply Department (VA 2787) which operated between 1865 and 1889 as a sub-department of the Department of Mines (VA 2719), from 1889 to 1895 as a department in its own right, and from 1895 to 1909 as a sub-department of the Department of Mines and Water Supply (VA 2720). The Board of Land and Works has been included in VRG 36, the Water Supply Group, because of its statutory responsibilities relating to rural water supply during the period 1880 to 1909 and the role of the Victorian Water Supply Department as the Board's operational arm for the rural water supply function. The Department of Mines and Department of Mines and Water Supply have also been included in the Water Supply Group as they were the departments of state responsible for rural water supply, through their sub-department the Victorian Water Supply Department, for the periods 1865 to 1889 and 1895 to 1909 respectively.

The appointment of a Commissioner of Water Supply in 1880 and the subsequent passage of the Water Conservation Act in 1881 (amended in 1885-86 and consolidated in 1887) and the Irrigation Act in 1886 were in response to a need for better central regulation and coordination of rural water supply and the growing requirements of agriculture. The provisions of the Water Conservation Act, which resulted from an inquiry by a Water Conservancy Board, dealt with the constitution, powers and duties of local Waterworks Trusts and Districts. The Irrigation Act, which followed a Royal Commission on Water Supply in 1884 (see its Further Progress Report to Parliament, 31 August 1885), vested surface rights in the Crown, and made the Minister responsible for promoting efficient storage and use of water resources, as well as providing for Irrigation and Rural Water Supply Districts and the construction of "national works" (works declared by Parliament to be of state wide significance). These Acts were subsequently consolidated in the Water Act of 1890 under which statutory responsibility for rural water works continued to be exercised by the Board of Land and Works while the Victorian Water Supply Department continued as its operational arm.

Gradually there was a recognition that there was a need for a single, more powerful and independent, coordinating authority to manage rural water resources. The Water Act of 1905 created the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723) and, together with the Water Act of 1909, vested in it statutory and operational responsibilities for all matters relating to rural water supply for irrigation, industrial and urban purposes. Thus the Commission took over the role of the Board of Land and Works and its operational arm, the Victorian Water Supply Department, and continued to exercise these responsibilities until 1984.

In 1945 the Minister and the Commission took on additional responsibilities for river management and improvement and the overseeing of local River Improvement Trusts, while from 1969 they exercised joint responsibility with Minerals and Energy (VRG 47) for the utilisation and conservation of groundwater under the Groundwater Act.

Melbourne and Metropolitan Area Water Supply

In 1891 the Minister of Water Supply inherited responsibility for water supply and sewerage in Melbourne and its environs from the Minister for Public Works (see VRG 28) following growing concern about sanitation which resulted in a Royal Commission in 1889. Its recommendations led to the establishment in 1891 of a new authority under the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works Act 1890. The Board (VA 1007) took over from the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) ownership of all Melbourne and metropolitan water and sewerage-related facilities, land and equipment, as well as its contracts and debts. Actual operational responsibility for water supply and sewerage was assumed from a branch of the Public Works Department (VA 669), the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Supply Department. In 1923 the Minister and the Board took on additional responsibilities under the Metropolitan Drainage and Rivers Act.

During the period 1956 to 1974 the Board also had responsibility for metropolitan foreshores and designated metropolitan highways and bridges. In relation to its metropolitan highways and bridges responsibilities, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works was responsible not to the Minister for Water Supply, but successively to the Ministers for Public Works (VRG 28), Local Government (VRG 57) and Planning (VRG 65). In relation to its town planning responsibilities town planning only it was responsible to the Minister for Planning (VRG 65).

Towards an Integrated System of Water Resource Management

From the mid 1970's there were moves to provide better co-ordination of water resource management state wide. In 1975 the Water Resources Act established a Ministry of Water Resources and Water Supply (VA 641) responsible for conserving and managing Victoria's water resources and promoting the extension and development of sewerage and drainage throughout the State. The Ministry comprised the Minister of Water Supply, a Water Resources Council to advise the Minister and the Director of Water Resources. The Director's staff essentially acted as a secretariat for the Council. Although the aim of the legislation was to provide a central coordinating body for the management of water resources state wide, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works continued to operate much as before with no real change in powers, responsibilities or functions and the Commission's chairman was designated permanent head of the new Ministry.

In the years 1980 to 1982 a review was undertaken by the Public Bodies Review Committee of Victoria's non-metropolitan water supply industry. It addressed the geographical and functional fragmentation of the water industry and the need to develop an integrated system. Its recommendations, foreshadowed in early 1984 by the Director of Water Resources being appointed permanent head of the Ministry of Water Resources and Water Supply and the Ministry assuming from the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission responsibility for the oversight of local water and sewerage authorities, resulted at the end of 1984 in a major restructuring with the abolition of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, the creation of the Department of Water Resources (VA 2354) and Rural Water Commission (VA 2338), and the appointment of a new Minister for Water Resources (see VRG 84 Water Resources Group) under the 1984 Water (Central Management Restructuring) Act.

Closer and Soldier Settlement

In 1912 the Minister of Water Supply inherited responsibility from the Minister for Lands (VRG 18) for the provisions of the Closer Settlement Act which related to the settlement of land in irrigation areas; in 1917 for the provisions of the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act relating to the settlement of returned servicemen and women on irrigable land; and in 1922 for the provisions of the Empire Settlement Act relating to the settlement of assisted British immigrants on irrigable land. The State Rivers and Water Supply Commission administered these provisions until 1933 when it was succeeded by the Closer Settlement Commission (VA 2268) and ministerial responsibility for schemes on irrigable land was resumed by the Minister for Lands (see VRG 18).

NOTE: In the post-World War II period, the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission also jointly managed closer settlement schemes in irrigation areas with the Soldier Settlement Commission (VA 2270) under s.11 (2) of the Soldier Settlement Act 1946 which provided for the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission to undertake works for the Soldier Settlement Commission.

Conservation and Environmental Protection

The Minister of Water Supply and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission were early sponsors of soil conservation in Victoria because of their growing concern with sand-drifts in the Wimmera-Mallee. The Minister was a sponsor of the Soil Conservation Act in 1940.

Head of Government Role

During the 1920s the Minister of Water Supply was also the Premier.

Prior to December 1936, the Chief Minister was not commissioned as Premier and there was no separate Premier's portfolio. Until 1874 the head of government or Chief Minister was invariably the Minister commissioned as Chief Secretary who exercised the responsibilities of that portfolio as well as those of the head of government. However from 1874 to 1936 the role of the Chief Minister or Premier (as the role was titled from 1874) was separated from the portfolio of Chief Secretary and was held by Ministers variously commissioned as

1855-1874: Chief Secretary (VRG 26)
1874-1875: Attorney-General (VRG 19)
1875-1877: Treasurer (VRG 23)
1877-1880: Chief Secretary
1880-1880: Treasurer
1880-1881: Chief Secretary and Treasurer
1881-1883: Attorney-General and Treasurer
1883-1892: Treasurer
1892-1893: Attorney-General
1893-1894: Chief Secretary
1894-1899: Treasurer
1899-1900: Chief Secretary
1900-1902: Treasurer
1902-1903: Attorney-General
1903-1909: Treasurer
1909-1912: Chief Secretary
1912-1917: Treasurer
1917-1918: Chief Secretary
1918-1919: Attorney-General
19201920: Solicitor-General (VRG 19)
1921-1924: Minister of Water Supply (VRG 36)
19241924: Treasurer
1924-1927: Minister of Water Supply
1927-1936: Treasurer

The main functions associated with the head of government role have been:

leadership of the Ministry/Cabinet and chief spokesperson for the Government
liaison with the Governor, other Governments and the Commonwealth after 1901
provision of advice to the monarch on behalf of the Victorian Government.

NOTE: For more information about the head of government role, see VRG 50 Premier.

Location of Records

Only small holdings of records are in the custody of the Public Record Office, but they include some significant transfers from the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (VA 723).

See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.23.0.

Ministers

Commissioner of Water Supply 1880-1880
Minister of Mines (?) 1880-1881
Minister of Water Supply and Agriculture 1881-1883
Commissioner of Water Supply 1883-1890
Minister of Water Supply 1890-1899
Minister of Mines and Water Supply 1899-1904
Minister of Water Supply 1904-1984
Minister for Water Resources 1984-ct

 
Other InformationOther Information
Agencies within this GroupAgencies within this Group
Display entries per page
Date within Group Agency Title Agency Number Agency Hierarchy
1880 - 1889 Department of Mines (also known as the Mining Department) VA 2719 Dept. of State
1880 - 1909 Victorian Water Supply Department VA 2787 Sub Department
1880 - 1910 Board of Land and Works VA 744 Dept. of State
1891 - 1984 Melbourne Water Corporation [known as Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to 1992] VA 1007 Major Statutory Authority
1894 - 1984 Korumburra Waterworks Trust VA 2110
1895 - 1909 Department of Mines and Water Supply VA 2720 Dept. of State
1905 - 1984 Leongatha Waterworks Trust VA 4725
1905 - 1984 Yarram Waterworks Trust VA 4727
1906 - 1984 State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SRWSC) VA 723 Sub Department
1924 - 1984 Toora Waterworks Trust VA 2163
1939 - 1984 Foster Waterworks Trust VA 2090
1947 - 1983 Westernport Waterworks Trust VA 4928
1947 - 1984 Inverloch Waterworks Trust VA 2105
1950 - 1984 Meeniyan Waterworks Trust VA 4722
1958 - 1984 First Mildura Irrigation Trust VA 1429 Other Instrumentalities
1958 - 1984 Fish Creek Waterworks Trust VA 2088
1959 - 1984 Dumbalk Waterworks Trust VA 2316
1966 - 1984 Alberton/Port Albert Waterworks Trust VA 4721
1970 - 1984 Poowong, Loch and Nyora Waterworks Trust VA 2147
1975 - 1984 Ministry of Water Resources and Water Supply VA 641 Dept. of State
Functions related to this GroupFunctions related to this Group
Display entries per page
Date within Group Function Title Function Number
1880 - 1984 Rural water supply VF 122
1891 - 1984 Melbourne water supply and sewerage VF 123
1913 - 1933 Settlement schemes (irrigable land) VF 34