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Research Guides


Working for the Dole: Commonwealth Relief during the Great Depression


Appendix 4: Government agencies

Records about the provision of relief work for the unemployed were compiled by a number of Commonwealth Government agencies, some of which are briefly described here. Information on all Government agencies included in this guide can be obtained by searching RecordSearch using the CA (Commonwealth Agency) number provided.

The Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
(Established 1 July 1911, disbanded 12 March 1971)

The administrative responsibilities of this department were many and varied. Those related to the provision of relief work for the unemployed during the period 1930–35 include the following:

  • Communication and liaison with all Federal departments with State, British, Dominion, and foreign governments and foreign consuls in Australia;
  • Executive Council matters;
  • Cabinet and parliamentary arrangements;
  • Commonwealth functions;
  • Royal Commissions;
  • Commonwealth publicity, gazettes and statutes;
  • migration and immigration;
  • Territories;
  • Commonwealth Grants Commission;
  • Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Employment;
  • Commonwealth (Economic) Development Branch; and
  • science and industry.

Between 1930 and 1935 successive secretaries of the Prime Minister's Department identified the department's function as administrative rather than one of coordination or policy determination.

Federal Capital Territory Branch, Department of Home Affairs [III] (CA 756)
(Established 1 January 1930, disbanded 31 December 1932)

This was a branch of the Department of Home Affairs charged with the administration of the Federal Capital Territory.

Department of Works and Railways, Central Office (CA 14)
(Established 14 November 1916, disbanded 12 April 1932)

By 1928 this department was responsible for the following functions:

  • conveyance of members of Parliament and others;
  • design and execution of engineering works;
  • design, construction, additions, alteration and maintenance of public buildings;
  • lands and surveys;
  • properties transferred and acquired;
  • public works;
  • rental of buildings for Commonwealth purposes; and
  • rivers, roads, and bridges.

This department was disbanded on 12 April 1932 and its functions, together with those of Department of Home Affairs [II] (CA 24) and Transport [I] (CA 26) which were disbanded on the same day, were assumed by the newly created Department of the Interior [I] (CA 27).

Department of Home Affairs [II], Central Office (CA 24)
(Established 10 December 1928, disbanded 12 April 1932)

Upon its establishment, this department assumed responsibility for nearly all the functions previously carried out by the Department of Home and Territories (CA 15). Functions of immediate interest in the provision of relief work for the unemployed during the period 1930–35 include the following:

  • Australian War Memorial;
  • census and statistics;
  • forestry, including administration of the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau and the Australian Forestry School;
  • immigration restrictions;
  • indentured coloured labour;
  • Northern Territory;
  • prospecting for precious metals; and
  • Seat of Government – this function included the Federal Capital Territory Commission which was abolished in 1930 when its functions were largely transferred to the FCT Branch of the Department of Home Affairs.

The Department of Home Affairs was disbanded on 12 April 1932 upon its amalgamation with the departments of Home Affairs, Transport [I] (CA 26) and Works and Railways (CA 14) to form the new Department of the Interior [I] (CA 27).

Attorney-General's Department, Central Office (CA 5)
(Established 1 January 1901)

This department has wide-ranging responsibilities for the administration of justice and for law enforcement. Between 1928 and 1940 the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department was also the Permanent Head of the Department of Industry (CA 22) whose functions included employment and industrial matters. During that time, therefore, the Attorney-General's Department was involved in the provision of relief work for the unemployed.

Department of the Interior [I], Central Administration (CA 27)
(Established 12 April 1932, disbanded 26 April 1939)

This department had some involvement in the provision of relief work to the unemployed since it was created by an amalgamation of the Department of Home Affairs [II] (CA 24), the Department of Transport [I] (CA 26) and the Department of Works and Railways (CA 14). The new department took over all the functions of the former Department of Home Affairs [II] with the exception of those relating to census and statistics; all the functions of the former Department of Works and Railways; and those functions of the former Department of Transport [I] concerned with internal transport, war service homes and waterside employment.

Department of External Affairs [III], Central Office (CA 18)
(Established 21 December 1921, disbanded 6 November 1970)

Until 1935 this department was linked administratively to the Prime Minister's Department (CA 12), with the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department acting as the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs. The Department of External Affairs was responsible for foreign affairs, foreign intelligence, foreign press and international conferences. From these activities information was gathered at times on the effectiveness of measures taken overseas to counter unemployment.

Department of Defence [II], Central Administration (CA 19)
(Established 21 December 1921, disbanded 13 November 1939)

This department, while responsible for defence force matters in general, operated a number of factories producing munitions, small arms and uniforms. At various times during the Great Depression demands were made of the Department of Defence to provide accommodation, fuel, clothing and relief work for the unemployed.


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