Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Public Record Office Victoria
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Full description

Overview of Department

Following significant machinery of government changes after the October 1992 general election, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was established by Administrative Arrangements Order (No.114) 1992.

All the responsibilities of the previous Department of Conservation and Environment (VA 3004) including: Crown lands (public), National parks, forests, soil conservation, fisheries and wildlife, conservation of flora, coastal management, historic sites on Crown lands, National Estate, commercial fishing licences, fish marketing, environment protection and noxious weeds and vermin destruction in forests became the responsibility of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The water resources management and rural water resources policy responsibilities of the Department of Water Resources II (VA 3132) were also transferred to the Department.

By early 1994 responsibility for state participation in the national Clean Up Australia Day campaign was transferred to Melbourne Parks and Waterways (see VA 1007).

Following significant machinery of government changes after the re-election of the Kennett Government in April 1996 the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was abolished. All functions were transferred to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (VA 3972) on 3 April 1996 under Administrative Arrangements Order No.150.

Overview of Functions

Since 1987 primary responsibility for managing unalienated land (Crown land) not actually assigned for specific purposes (eg. roads, railways and schools) has been divided into

Crown lands (government) for land available for sale or use by the government of the day (see VRG 100 Finance)

Crown lands (public) for land (reserved or unreserved) maintained for public use or benefit

The primary functions of this Department comprise or are closely related to Crown Lands (public).

The public land management function includes the administration of leases and licences authorising occupation and use of unreserved public land and monitoring and co-ordinating Committees of Management directly responsible for public reserves; protection of natural heritage and ensuring natural values are protected on all Crown land where productive uses occur; as well as those aspects of cultural heritage protection relating to public land.

The conservation of flora and fauna and their environments (including marine and freshwater environments) along with the management of commercial fisheries (including recreational fisheries and the issuing of fishing licences) are also important functions within this portfolio. Conservation protection of Crown and private land, including reversal of land degradation caused by soil erosion, pest plants and animals, salinity, native tree decline and the protection of Crown land from fire are closely related functions.

An associated function to the public land management function is the responsibility for State forests and nurseries, including administration of licences and royalties for forest products, advice, marketing and sales for forestry industries, and management of state hardwood and softwood timber plantations and the Victorian School of Forestry and Land Management.

Similarly the management of national parks, wilderness parks, and state parks is closely affiliated with the public lands management function.

Environment protection functions encompass policy and planning for environment protection, including co-ordinating the Government's response to the Greenhouse Effect and Greenhouse monitoring, developing statewide land-use controls and regional environment plans, advising government agencies, industry and the community on environmental matters as well as the provision of facilities for marine and environmental research, e.g. the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research and the Marine Science Laboratory. (The Office of the Environment was an Associated Administrative Unit of the Department between January 1991 until October 1992.)

Crown Lands (Government)

This function encompasses the control and management of crown lands assigned for use by government or for sale or development, including :

land sales
; ownership of land and buildings used for government purposes.

Division of Responsibility for Public and Government Crown Land

Around 1987 the government commissioned a report into public land management which recommended the management of Crown lands be separated according to a classification which identified Public land as that which needs to be retained permanently for the "public benefit" because of its natural resource, environmental resource or heritage attributes and Government land as property used for the provision of goods and services by public agencies. A Bill of Parliament to authorise the transfer of Government land management, lease and sale functions to the Minister for Property and Services (VRG 69) was prepared but never tabled. In order to effect the intention of the Bill sections of the Land Act 1958 (6284) were subsequently transferred to the Minister for Property and Services via Administrative Arrangements Order (No. 58) 1988. This transfer of functions has been described as "administratively clumsy". Although the power to sell Crown land was transferred to Property and Services (VRG 69), the ability to lease designated government land (usually in the metropolitan area) had to be effected by the Department of Property and Services (VA 430) acting as an agent for the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (VA 1034). Similarly the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (VA 1034) retained authority for the sale of Crown land (usually in rural areas) acting as a land agent for Property and Services.

The Minister for Property and Services (VRG 69) became responsible for the sale and lease of Crown Land classified as Government land under the Government's assets sales program. Government land incorporated:

declared roadways (used)
railway permanent way and rail reserves
sites of premises and other land use for delivery of goods and services, eg. offices, schools, laboratories, depots etc.

Crown Lands (Public)

This function encompasses the control and management of crown lands generally, including :

unalienated lands not assigned to be used for government purposes
; lands and waters reserved for public use, benefit and/or enjoyment ie. public reserves
; management of all licences and leases of unalienated crown land eg. pastoral leases, 19th century land selection, occupation licences.

The prime activity is the management of all public land including reserved and unreserved lands. The regulation of occupation and use of unreserved public land and the removal of natural materials (eg. gravel, sand and stone) is governed by leases and licences. Such land can be occupied for commercial and agricultural purposes and for recreational purposes, including coast and waterway sites occupied by boating clubs and private moorings. Unreserved lands subject to classification review are managed as public land until their classification into government or public land. Monitoring and co-ordinating the Committees of Management which directly manage land reserved for public purposes. This function does not encompass the management of National Parks post 1956 or State Forests post 1907.


In the 19th century, after the initial seizure of the land from the indigenous population under presumption of the legal doctrine of "terra nullis", land administration focussed on survey and sale (alienation) of land and on the management of unalienated Crown land. In the 20th century the emphasis shifted from land settlement to management and conservation of public land.

Crown land has traditionally consisted of land which has been reserved for particular purposes and unreserved land. Unreserved land includes land occupied under licence (including pastoral leases) and land set aside for roads. Authorised occupations include land held by lease or licence under the following categories: primary production, residential, recreational, public utility, industrial, commercial. These occupations have, since permanent white settlement, been controlled and administered by leases, licences and permits pursuant to a number of Acts, including 19th century "pastoral lease" legislation and "land selection" leases and licences. By the mid 1980's two thirds of Crown land leases and licences related to the occupation of unused roads and water frontages.

In the 19th century crown land administration included regulation of the alienation of crown land by auction and selection; settlement of disputes regarding alienation and occupation; issue of occupation licences and leases and ensuring compliance with the conditions of such licences and leases; issue of Deeds of Grant for alienated land and for reserves granted for public purposes such as schools and churches; issue of licences for pastoral occupation and determination of rents; control and management of public parks, reserves and commons, alpine resorts and; prevention of the unauthorised use or occupation of crown lands.

In the 20th century the focus of this function has been the management of the State's public land through the administration of leases and licences for unreserved land; the support, co-ordination and monitoring of committees of management responsible for over 4000 Crown reserves; and the control of pests and weeds and development of management plans for public land. Closely related functions which have developed alongside the public land function are the management of national parks, State forests and historic sites on Crown lands; soil conservation, protection and management of fisheries and wildlife, conservation of flora, research institutes, coastal management, management of botanic gardens, the National Herbarium, and zoos.

Pastoral Leases

After 1829 as white settlement in New South Wales (and the Port Phillip District) grew the emphasis of land administration shifted from small-scale land grants, encouraging agricultural production, to tickets of occupancy, later to become the pastoral licence and leases of the 1830's and 1840's. In the years from first European settlement in the Port Phillip District in the early 1830s the fertile regions of Victoria had been turned into sheep runs by squatters whose possession of the land rested on simple occupancy. By 1838 practically the whole of the present Western District had been occupied and flocks numbered more than 310,000. By 1840 this number had almost doubled [Australian Encyclopaedia, Grollier, Sydney, n.d, Volume IX, p.118]

After 1838 the occupiers of these pastoral runs in the Port Phillip District had to obtain an annual 10 licence based on stock assessment which was conducted by the Commissioners of Crown Lands. Under the provisions of 1847 Orders in Council all persons in occupation of licensed runs had to lodge applications for leases. By this legislation the pre-emptive rights of the squatters were recognised. In the newly defined Intermediate and Unsettled Districts of New South Wales, which encompassed most of the Port Phillip District except land near the townships of Melbourne and Geelong, pastoral occupants would be granted eight and fourteen year leases respectively, together with the right of prior purchase and compensation for improvements.

The leases were never granted. Instead 1852 Orders in Council c... truncated

141.000000,-34.000000 142.919336,-34.145604 144.582129,-35.659230 147.742627,-35.873175 150.024219,-37.529041 150.200000,-39.200000 141.000000,-39.200000 141.000000,-34.000000 141.000000,-34.000000


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