Chief Secretary's Department

Public Record Office Victoria
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Establishment and Functions

Following the achievement of responsible government in 1855, the central role of the Colonial Secretary passed to the Chief Secretary whose department co-ordinated, in addition to the departmental branches, a wide variety of other agencies not specifically assigned to other Ministers. The Department also co-ordinated the policy of government and acted as a channel of communication between departments. Consequently the inward and outward correspondence of the Department are a rich source of information about many government activities especially for the period to 1900.

As departmental and ministerial arrangements were formalised during the second half of the nineteenth century, other ministerial departments came to act more independently. Chief Secretary's remained, however, the principal omnibus department and its Minister was head of government exclusively until 1874 and then periodically until 1918. The Department was responsible for the administration of matters relating to head of government functions until 1883. Between 1894 and 1928 it was again responsible for this function through the Premier's Office (VA 672), which operated as a sub-department of the Chief Secretary's Department during this period.

As well as serving the Chief Minister or Premier, the Chief Secretary's Department inherited the functional responsibilities formerly exercised by the Colonial Secretary's Office (VA 856). including:

* Aborigines
* agricultural matters
* census, statistics and registration functions
* education
* health
* libraries, galleries and museums
* liquor and theatre licensing
* mining and goldfields administration, including the Chinese on the Goldfields
* prisons
* police administration.

A number of these diverse functions gradually became the responsibility of separate departments, for example mining from 1860 (VA 2719), agriculture from 1872 (VA 618), education from 1873 (VA 714), and public health from 1890 (VA 2904).

Among the Chief Secretary's Department's prime continuing responsibilities from 1855 were the prison system and associated social control and welfare programs which were separated out into the new Social Welfare Department in 1970 (VA 946); the maintenance of law and order through the Victoria Police Force and management of other emergency services, which were inherited by the Ministry for Police and Emergency Services (VA 421) in 1979 when the Chief Secretary's portfolio was finally dismantled; the administration of policies and programs for Aborigines in 1855 and 1856 and from 1860 to 1968 when the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs portfolio (VA 2873) was established; and the administration of mental health services and facilities until 1944 when this also became a responsibility of the Department of Health (VA 695). The Chief Secretary was also responsible for the conduct of elections until 1979 when the State Electoral Office passed to Property and Services (VRG 69). Libraries, galleries and museums remained part of the Department for many years until 1972 when the Ministry for the Arts (VA 1025) was established and these responsibilities were transferred to the new department. The Chief Secretary was also responsible for liquor licensing for an extended period and for the administration of laws relating to racing and other professional sports, gambling and betting. The Minister for Labour and Industry (VRG 42) inherited responsibility for liquor licensing in 1979 and the new Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation (VA 1028) took over responsibility for sporting and recreational matters in 1972. While some registration functions were only exercised for a short period in the 19th century, for example inquests from 1856 to 1869 and land titles from 1863 to 1864, census and statistics, including the registration of births, deaths and marriages, were a responsibility of the Chief Secretary's Department for many years, passing in 1979 to the Department of Property and Services (VA 430).

Other functions developed within the Chief Secretary's Department and were subsequently taken over by new departments. Concern about employment conditions, industrial and safety issues in the latter part of the 19th century resulted in the regulation of factories and shops and, by 1900, when the first Minister of Labour (VRG 42) was appointed, this regulatory function had developed into a major area of government activity. Administrative support for this function continued to be provided by the Chief Secretary's Department until 1916.

The Chief Secretary had briefly exercised some responsibility for immigration between 1900 and 1904. In the immediate post-war period, the Chief Secretary became responsible for the State's role in joint commonwealth-state immigration schemes until the appointment of a Minister of Immigration in 1950 (VRG 90). However the State Immigration Office continued to operate within the Chief Secretary's Department until 1971.

More detail about the Chief Secretary's role as head of government and the diverse functional responsibilities of the Department is provided below under the following headings:

* The Chief Secretary as Head of Government
* Aborigines 1855-1856 and 1860-1968
* Agriculture 1855-1872 and Animal Protection to 1979
* Cemeteries 1888-1890
* Census, Statistics and Registration Functions to 1979
* Defence c1855-1858
* Education 1855-1873
* Elections 1855-1979
* Goldfields Administration and Mining 1855-1860
* Health 1855-1944
* Immigration 1900-1904 and 1947-1971
* Labour and Industry to 1916
* Libraries and Galleries 1855-1972/3, Museums 1855-1976
* Liquor and Theatre Licensing
* Police and Emergency Services 1855-1979
* Prisons and Social Welfare 1855-1970
* Public Records 1973-1978
* Royal Botanic Gardens and Herbarium
* Sport, Recreation, Racing and Gaming to 1972
* Other Responsibilities.


The Chief Secretary was frequently also the head of government or Premier prior to 1918.

NOTE: For more information about the history and function of head of government in Victoria, see VRG 50 Premier.

Administrative Support for Head of Government Role

Administrative support for the head of government function was initially provided by the Chief Secretary's Office within the Chief Secretary's Department. By 1883, in view of the fact that the head of government was no longer always the Chief Secretary, separate administrative arrangements were made and a Premier's Department or Office (VA 672) was established.

The functions of the Premier's Department on its establishment were set down in an Order-in-Council of 29 May 1883:

* correspondence with other colonies, governments and the Agent-General

* correspondence with the Governor, including despatches from the Secretary of State in Britain referred by the Governor to Ministers

* matters referred to the Premier and Cabinet by other Ministers or departments for their consideration

* other matters concerning the Premier

* issuing Cabinet circulars and attending upon Cabinet (VA 2989)

* matters relating to the Public Service as a whole.

The Office's role in the central co-ordination of Government policy gradually expanded. Following Federation in 1900 it also became responsible for relations with the Commonwealth and other States.

From 1884 to 1890 this Office functioned as a sub-department within the Department of the Treasurer (VA 865); from 1890 to 1894 as a separate Department of State; from 1894 to 1928 as a sub-department within the Chief Secretary's Department; and from 1928 to 1936 again as a sub-department within the Department of the Treasurer (VA 865).

From December 1936, the Department of the Premier (VA 2717) and from 1982 the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (VA 1039) have assisted the Premier in his/her head of government functions and the co-ordination of government policies and programs.

An agency associated with the head of government role has been the Audit Office which was located within the Chief Secretary's Department until 1936 when it was transferred to the Department of the Premier (VA 2717).

Office of the Agent-General

Responsibility for the Agent-General for Victoria in London appears to have been associated with the provision of administrative support to the head of government role.

The first Agent-General took up office on 1 December 1868, being created under the Immigration Act 1863 (27 Vic 175). Functions of the Agent-General, established under the 1863 Act included:

* selection of emigrants and their conveyance to Victoria
* making contracts for such selection or conveyance on behalf of the Government of Victoria
* carrying out provisions of the Act
* presiding at all meetings of the Emigration Commissioners.

In 1872 the first Agent-General's Act 1872 (No.441) was passed. One of the sections of the Act provided that the Agent-General should carry out the instructions of the Governor-in-Council and, in 1904, the then Agent-General was instructed to reorganise the Agent-General's office upon a commercial basis so that the development of markets for Victorian produce, the dissemination of useful knowledge regarding the State, and the correction of misapprehension as to its people and resources might be the chief functions. From this time the office of the Agent-General dealt less with emigration.

Responsibility for the Agent-General remained with the Chief Secretary Department until 1883 when the Premier's Office (VA 672) was established.

Support to the Governor (VA 466) and the Executive Council (VA 2903)

From 1863 to 1936 the Official Secretary to the Governor was located within the Chief Secretary's Department however records maintained by the Official Secretary have been attributed to the Governor (VA 466). Likewise, although the Clerk of the Executive Council was located within the Chief Secretary's Department from 1901 to 1936 records have been attributed to the Executive Council (VA 2903).

ABORIGINES 1855-1856 AND 1860-1968

In 1855 and 1856 and from 1860 to 1968 the Chief Secretary was responsible for the administration of policy and programs for Aborigines in Victoria. The responsible agencies were: Guardian of Aborigines 1849-1860 (VA 513) the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines 1860-1869 (VA 514), the Board for the Protection of Aborigines 1869-1957 (VA 515) and the Aboriginal Welfare Board 1957-1968. The staff of each of these agencies were located within the Chief Secretary's Department. The Colonial Secretary (VRG 16) had previously administered this function. In 1856 and 1857 responsibility for Aborigines was vested in the Surveyor-General (VRG 18) and subsequently in the Board of Land and Works (VA 744) until 1860.

The Guardian of Aborigines 1849-1960

The Guardian of Aborigines (VA 513) was appointed in 1849 following a Select Committee report which recommended the abolition of the Protectorate System. The Guardian was solely responsible for providing "protection to Aborigines". Crown Land Commissioners had been appointed as honorary protectors, their duties being to visit reserves, report on the condition of Aborigines and supply Aborigines with food and clothing "in cases of extreme emergency" (see VRG 27 District Land Offices).

The Central Board 1860-1869 and the Board for the Protect... truncated
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