Full description Background
Public Works prior to Separation from New South Wales
The first public works were undertaken by convict labourers, overseen by the military detachment responsible for guarding them. The first Clerk of Works was appointed in mid-1837. Plans for the settlement's early permanent buildings, including the Customs House, Survey Office, Post Office, Police Office and official residences were prepared by the Colonial Architect in Sydney, but the Clerk of Works took detailed direction in overseeing the works from Lonsdale. Other early buildings included a barracks, hospital, schoolhouse and prison. (See also Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 4).
Following the appointment of the Superintendent, Port Phillip District in 1839, public works continued to be overseen by locally appointed officers under La Trobe's direction. The Melbourne Gaol in Russell Street was completed in 1844.
In May 1846, Henry Ginn was appointed Clerk of Works and by 1850, the civil establishment for public works included the Clerk of Works, Superintendent of Bridges, six overseers and clerks, a clerk and a messenger.
Public Works following Separation
The period between separation from New South Wales in 1851 and the achievement of responsible government in 1855 was characterised by a huge expansion in revenue, population, the size of the colonial administration and the need for public works and buildings. During this period the structure of the administration of public works was re-organised a number of times.
From 1 July 1851, the Colonial Secretary was the chief official and all other colonial officials communicated with the Lieutenant-Governor (later Governor) via the Colonial Secretary's office. Following separation the former Clerk of Works, Henry Ginn, was appointed Colonial Architect. The Returns of Public Works for 1851 and the Civil Establishment (see VPRS 943, Blue Books, Vol.1) suggest that the Colonial Architect was responsible for the construction, maintenance, rental and furnishing of public buildings.
The appropriations for 1852 suggest that the Colonial Engineer and the Superintendent of Bridges were together responsible for public works. The Colonial Architect continued to be responsible for the construction, rental and furnishing of public buildings.
By 1854 there had been an amalgamation of the functions and staff of the Colonial Engineer and the Colonial Architect. The position of Colonial Architect no longer existed and the chief architect was clearly subordinate to the Colonial Engineer.
Select Committee of the Legislative Council on Public Works 1853/4
Some of the administrative difficulties which may have prompted the Government to establish the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) in 1857, were described in the "Report from the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on Public Works" in 1853/4 (Papers Presented in Parliament 1853/4 Vol.3). The Select Committee had noted "the want of co-operation between different departments; the loose mode of authorizing expenditure; the unsatisfactory manner of dealing with tenders and the delays in payments, all of which cause unnecessary waste of the Public Funds and enhance the cost of Public Works....".
When giving evidence on these matters, Henry Ginn, the former Colonial Architect, in response to a question seeking his views on the best mode of carrying on public works, replied "... I am most clear that it should be by a Board composed of those professional men who would afterwards have the carrying out of the works fixed upon. The Board should consist of the Surveyor General, the Colonial Engineer and the Colonial Architect. Thus when the Surveyor General was about to lay out a new township, he would have the advantage of consulting the Colonial Engineer on the subject of roads, bridges etc. and with the Colonial Architect as to the necessary buildings and the most convenient site for them". Henry Ginn also recommended that the Board should be empowered to decide upon tenders; to consider the plans for proposed public works and buildings and to determine their location; and that once the work had been completed, the Board should inspect it and determine whether the design specifications had been met.
The Government opted instead for the appointment of a Commissioner of Public Works who was to be responsible for the co-ordination of all public works from 1855.
Establishment of the Board of Land and Works
The Board of Land and Works was established by statute in 1857 (An Act to establish a Board of Land and Works, (No.31) because it was considered that the administration of public lands and public works would be more effectually and economically managed if they were consolidated and placed under one head. Under the provisions of the "Act to establish a Board of Land and Works", all powers previously vested in the Commissioner of Public Works and the Surveyor General were to be vested in the Board and Letters Patent dated 28 April 1857 formally abolished the two positions of Commissioner of Public Works and Surveyor General or Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey.
The Departments of the Civil Service which were then under the respective control of those two positions effectively became sub-departments. While there was clearly an intent to achieve consolidation, the extent to which the sub-departments were administratively integrated following the establishment of the Board in 1857 is uncertain and from late 1858 by which time a Commissioner of Public Works and a Commissioner of Crown Lands and Survey had been reappointed, the sub-departments are clearly administratively separate.
In 1865 "An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Laws Relating to Public Works" (No.289) (referred to as the Public Works Statute) was passed. The duties of the Board, as set out in section 12, were to "... consider and determine all matters and questions relating to the adoption of any plans and specifications for public works and shall consider and deal with all requisitions for buildings, furniture, or repairs and shall decide upon the acceptance of all tenders for such works, buildings, furniture or repairs and the terms and conditions on which the same shall be accepted ... and all other matters and questions relating to or concerning the public lands, works and buildings of the colony." Although statutory responsibility for these functions was vested in the Board, operational responsibility was effectively exercised by various sub-departments of the Board including the Public Works Department (VA 669) and a number of these sub-departments became Departments of State on the abolition of the Board in 1964.
Under the provisions of the Public Lands and Works Act 1964 (No.7228) the Commissioner of Public Works became the Minister of Public Works in whom were vested the relevant statutory powers of the Board of Land and Works.
Role of Public Works Department
No research has yet been undertaken into the role of the Public Works Department in the construction and supervision of public buildings and the way in which the Department exercised its responsibility for public works.
It is clear that the civil establishment of the Department always included a very significant number of architects, engineers, draftsmen and inspectors who together were responsible for the design and construction of public buildings, the preparation of plans and specifications and the supervision and inspection of all public works and buildings under construction.
It is also apparent that most of this work was undertaken by contractors but the role and responsibility of the Department in the letting and supervision of contracts is yet to be researched. Until 1964, statutory responsibility for the design, construction and maintenance of public buildings, the approval of plans and specifications, the consideration of tenders, the supervision of contracts and the approval of requisitions for buildings, furniture and repairs was vested in the Board of Land and Works (VA 744).
Transfer of Public Buildings and Related Functions from the Public Works Portfolio
In 1987 a Minister for Housing and Construction was appointed and assumed responsibility for the planning, design and construction of public buildings and the restoration and maintenance of existing buildings for the Government and agencies funded from the State budget.
The Department of Planning and Housing was established in January 1991 and inherited responsibility for the general planning function. The "public building" function which had previously been the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing and Construction (VA 2907) was also transferred at this time: design and construction of government buildings.
Following significant machinery of government changes after the October 1992 election, the Department of Planning and Development was established by Administrative Arrangements Order No.114.
The Department inherited responsibility for all the functions of the short-lived Department of Planning and Housing (VA 3013) (planning, environment effects statements, heritage protection, building regulation, housing and design and construction of government buildings).
Following significant machinery of government changes after the re-election of the Kennett Government in April 1996 the Department of Planning and Development was abolished. Under Administrative Arrangements Order No.150 all functions of the Department, except the Office of Housing, were transferred on 3 April 1996 to the Department of Infrastructure.
Office of Major Projects
The Office of Major Projects is responsible for major projects assigned to it by the Government. The modus operandi of the Unit is for the Government to formally assign responsibility for specified approved projects to the Unit. Any liabilities arising from Government approved activities are the responsibility of the State. The Minister responsible formally assigns responsibility in accordance with the Premier's order of 13 February 1987 and Section 4 (1) (c) of the Urban Land Authority Act (No.9320). Initially there were eight projects managed by the Unit, all of them important to the development of inner Melbourne.
The functions of the Office include acquisition, consolidation and preparation of sites. Its task is to facilitate the development of large strategically significant areas of government-owned land for commercial, tourist and residential purposes. It is responsible for major state projects assigned to it by the Government. It provides a central contact point for developers interested in investing in major government projects.
The Office has the authority to invite tenders, evaluate competitive development proposals, select developers, facilitate planning approvals, execute financial and legal agreements and supervise construction.
Some of the projects managed by the Office have been:
World Congress Centre
Redevelopment of the State Library
Victorian Archives Building
Data time period: 1837 to 2013
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