History of the Department

The Department of Health was established in 1921 and has since undergone a number of changes in its name function and structure. The changes are briefly outlined below, including name changes, Health Ministers and Heads of Department.

Page last updated: 20 October 2014

Background | Summary of name changes | Health Ministers | Outer Ministries | Parliamentary Secretaries | Heads of the Department from 1921 to the present | Deputy Heads of the Department from 1956 to the present | Chief Medical Officers | History fact sheets and posters | Putting Life into Years | General Information on the history of health, medical discoveries and illnesses


Background


The Department of Health was established in 1921 and has since undergone a number of changes in its name, function and structure.

The first change was in 1987 when the Department of Health was merged with the Department of Community Services to form the Department of Community Services and Health.

The Department of Health, Housing and Community Services was then formed in June 1991, reflecting the transfer of housing industry programs from the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce to the Department of Community Services and Health.

In March 1993 the Department of Local Government joined with the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services to form the Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services. Subsequently, in 1994, the Department's name was changed to the Department of Human Services and Health.

When a new government was elected in March 1996, the department's name changed to the Department of Health and Family Services. At this time, it gained responsibility for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program from the former Department of Housing and Regional Development.

The department later assumed responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health matters from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

After the October 1998 election, the department's name changed to the Department of Health and Aged Care to reflect its new responsibilities and functions. Responsibility for Family and Children's Services, Disability Programs and the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service were transferred to the Department of Family and Community Services on 22 October 1998.

Following the November 2001 election, Department of Health and Aged Care became the Department of Health and Ageing. The portfolio also gained the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service from the Department of Family and Community Services.

Following the September 2013 election, it became the Department of Health. The administration of ageing research, active ageing policy other than employment, and aged care services transferred to the Department of Social Services. In addition, the administration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy, programs and service delivery transferred to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The portfolio gained responsibility for sport and recreation policy.
Top of page

Summary of name changes

September 2013 -
Department of Health

November 2001 - September 2013
Department of Health and Ageing

October 1998 - November 2001
Department of Health and Aged Care

March 1996 - October 1998
Department of Health and Family Services

March 1994 - March 1996
Department of Human Services and Health

March 1993 - March 1994
Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services

June 1991 - March 1993
Department of Health, Housing and Community Services

July 1987 - June 1991
Department of Community Services and Health

March 1921 - July 1987
Department of Health
Top of page

Health Ministers

18/09/2013 -
Peter Dutton

14/12/2011 - 18/09/2013
Tanya Plibersek

03/12/2007 - 14/12/2011
Nicola Roxon

07/10/2003 - 03/12/2007
Tony Abbott

27/11/2001 - 6/10/2003
Kay Christine Lesley Patterson

11/03/1996 - 11/11/2001
Michael Richard Lewis Wooldridge

25/03/1994 - 11/03/1996
Carmen Mary Lawrence

24/03/1993 - 25/03/1994
Graham Frederick Richardson

04/04/1990 - 24/03/1993
Brian Leslie Howe, AM

11/03/1983 - 04/04/1990
Neal Blewett, AC

07/05/1982 - 11/03/1983
James Joseph Carlton, AO

20/04/1982 - 07/05/1982
Peter Erne Baume, AO

08/12/1979 - 20/04/1982
Michael John Randal MacKellar

12/12/1975 - 08/12/1979
Ralph James Dunnet Hunt, AO

11/11/1975 - 12/12/1975
Donald Leslie Chipp, AO

19/12/1972 - 11/11/1975
Douglas Nixon Everingham

05/12/1972 - 19/12/1972
Lance Herbert Barnard, AO
Top of page
02/08/1971 - 05/12/1972
Sir Kenneth McColl Anderson

22/03/1971 - 02/08/1971
Ivor John Greenwood

26/01/1966 - 22/03/1971
Alexander James Forbes

21/11/1964 - 26/01/1966
Sir Reginald William Colin Swartz

22/12/1961 - 18/11/1964
Harrie Walter Wade

11/01/1956 - 22/12/1961
Donald Alastair Cameron

19/12/1949 - 11/01/1956
Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page

18/06/1946 - 19/12/1949
Nicholas Edward McKenna

21/09/1943 - 18/06/1946
James Mackintosh Fraser

07/10/1941 - 21/09/1943
Edward James Holloway

28/10/1940 - 07/10/1941
Sir Frederick Harold Stewart
Top of Page
14/03/1940 - 28/10/1940
Harold Victor Campbell Thorby

26/04/1939 - 14/03/1940
Sir Frederick Harold Stewart

07/11/1938 - 26/04/1939
Hattil Spencer Foll

29/11/1937 - 07/11/1938
Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page

26/02/1936 - 29/11/1937
William Morris Hughes

08/11/1935 - 26/02/1936
Joseph Aloysius Lyons

12/10/1934 - 06/11/1935
William Morris Hughes

06/01/1932 - 12/10/1934
Sir Charles Williams Clanan Marr

03/03/1931 - 06/01/1932
John McNeill

22/10/1929 - 03/03/1931
Frank Anstey

24/02/1928 - 22/10/1929
Sir Neville Reginald Howse, VC

02/04/1927 - 24/02/1928
Stanley Melbourne Bruce

16/01/1925 - 02/04/1927
Sir Neville Reginald Howse, VC

13/06/1924 - 16/01/1925
Herbert Edward Pratten

29/05/1924 - 13/06/1924
Sir Littleton Ernest Groom

09/02/1923 - 26/05/1924
Sir Austin Chapman

10/03/1921 - 05/02/1923
Sir Walter Massey-Green
Top of page

Other Ministries (relating to the Department's responsibilities at the time)

18/09/2013 -
Assistant Minister for Health - Fiona Nash

14/09/2010 - 18/09/2013
Minister for Mental Health and Ageing - Mark Butler

09/06/2009 - 18/09/2013
Minister for Indigenous Health - Warren Snowdon

03/12/2007 - 06/06/2009
Minister for Sport - Kate Ellis

03/12/2007 - 11/09/2010
Minister for Ageing - Justine Elliot

21/03/2007 - 03/12/2007
Minister for Ageing - Christopher Pyne

27/01/2006 - 21/03/2007
Minister for Ageing - Santo Santoro

7/10/2003 - 27/01/2006
Minister for Ageing - Julie Isabel Bishop

26/11/2001 - 07/10/2003
Minister for Ageing - Kevin James Andrews

21/10/1998 - 26/11/2001
Minister for Aged Care - Bronwyn Kathleen Bishop

09/10/1997 - 21/10/1998
Minister for Family Services - Warwick Leslie Smith

11/03/1996 - 09/1 0/1997
Minister for Family Services - Judith Eleanor Moylan

25/03/1994 - 11/03/1996
Minister for Veterans' Affairs - Concetto Antonio Sciacca

24/03/1993 - 25/03/1994
Minister for Veterans' Affairs - John Philip Faulkner

24/03/1993 - 11/03/1996
Minister for Family Services - Rosemary Anne Crowley

07/05/1990 - 24/03/1993
Minister for Aged, Family and Health Services - Peter Richard Staples

15/02/1988 - 07/05/1990
Minister for Housing and Aged Care - Peter Richard Staples

19/01/1988 - 15/02/1988
Minister for Housing and Aged Care - Peter Frederick Morris

24/07/1987 - 04/04/1990
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs - Gerard Leslie Hand

24/07/1987 - 24/03/1993
Minister for Veterans' Affairs - Benjamin Charles Humphreys, AM

14/09/1971 - 05/12/1972
Assistant Minister Assisting the Minister for Health - John Edward Marriott

Parliamentary Secretaries (relating to the Department's responsibilities at the time)

14/09/2010 - 18/09/2013
Parliamentary Secretary for Health - Catherine King
Top of Page
09/06/2009 - 14/09/2010
Parliamentary Secretary for Health - Mark Butler

03/12/2007 - 06/06/2009
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing - Jan McLucas

21/03/2007 - 03/12/2007
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing - Brett Mason

26/10/2004 - 21/03/2007
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing - Christopher Pyne

26/11/2001 - 26/10/2004
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing - Patricia (Trish) Mary Worth

21/10/1998 - 26/11/2001
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care - Grant Ernest John Tambling

18/07/1997 - 21/10/1998
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services - Patricia (Trish) Mary Worth

13/02/1997 - 18/07/1997
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services - Christopher Martin Ellison

11/03/1996 - 03/02/1997
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services - Robert Leslie Woods

25/03/1994 - 11/03/1996
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Human Services and Health - Andrew Charles Theophanous

24/03/1993 - 25/03/1994
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health - Andrew Charles Theophanous

23/12/1993 - 25/03/1994
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Human Services - Andrew Charles Theophanous

24/03/1993 - 23/12/1993
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Community Services - Andrew Charles Theophanous

27/12/1991 - 24/03/93
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services - Gary Thomas Johns

Top of Page

Heads of the Department from 1921 to the present

Director-General

1983 - 1984
LJ (Lawrie) Willett

1973 - 1982
Dr Gwyn Howells

1960 - 1973
Sir William Refshauge

1947 - 1960
Dr Arthur John Metcalfe

1945 - 1946
Dr Frank McCallum

1921 - 1945
Dr John Howard Lidgett Cumpston

Secretary

2014 -
Martin Bowles

2002 - 2014
Jane Halton

1996 - 2002
Andrew Stuart Podger

1994 - 1996
Stephen John Duckett

1993 - 1994
Anthony Stuart (Tony) Cole

1988 - 1993
Stuart Hamilton

1987 - 1988
Anthony J (Tony) Ayers

1984 - 1987
Bernard V McKay

Top of page

Deputy Heads of the Department from 1956 to the present

Deputy Director General

1983 - 1987
Mrs A. Kern

1982 - 1983
P.T. Pflaum (Acting)

1981 - 1982
C.P. Evans
M. Carroll


1974 - 1981
C.P. Evans
C.A. Nettle

1973 - 1974
A.D. Spears
C.P. Evans (Acting)
C.A. Nettle

1972 - 1973
Dr Gwyn Howells
Dr H.M. Franklands

1969 - 1972
Dr L.J. Wienholt
Dr H.M. Franklands

1963 - 1969
Dr H.E. Downes
Dr G.M. Redshaw

1956 - 1963
Dr H.E. Downes
Dr G.M. Redshaw
R.H.D. White


Top of page

Deputy Secretary

2013 -
Mr Paul Madden
Mr David Butt
Mr David Learmonth
Mr Andrew Stuart
Ms Kerry Flanagan

2011 - 2013
Mr David Learmonth
Ms Kerry Flanagan
Mr Andrew Stuart
Mr Paul Madden
Mr David Butt
Ms Rosemary Huxtable
Top of Page
2010 - 2011
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr David Learmonth
Ms Rosemary Huxtable
Mr Graeme Head
Mr Richard Eccles

2006 - 2009
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr Philip Davies
Mr David Kalisch
Mr David Learmonth

2002 - 2006
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr Philip Davies

2001 - 2002
Ms Mary Murnane
Dr Louise Moruata (Acting)

1997 - 2001
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr David Borthwick

1994 - 1997
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr Ian Lindenmayer

1993 - 1994
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr Alan Bansemer

1992 - 1993
Mr Alan Bansemer
Ms Mary Murnane
Mr Mick Roche

1987 - 1992
Mr Alan Bansemer
Mr Glenn Rees
Mr Mick Roche
Top of Page

Chief Medical Officers

Aug 2011 -
Prof. Chris Baggoley

Apr 2009 - May 2011
Prof. Jim Bishop

Sep 2003 - Apr 2009
Prof. John Horvath

Nov 1999 - 2003
Prof. Richard Smallwood

7 April 1997 - 1999
Prof. Judith Whitworth

1988 - 1997
Dr. Tony Adams

1985 - 1988
Dr. David de Souza

Top of page

'Putting Life into Years' - The Commonwealth's role in Australia's health since 1901

Putting Life into Years tells the story of the Commonwealth's involvement in the health of the nation, from modest beginning in 1901 to today. It moves through each decade of the 20th century, highlighting major events in health and placing them in the broader context of Australia's first century as a nation.

The book is aimed at the general reader. It draws on departmental material, archival as well as current, secondary sources and interviews. For those who wish to delve further into the subject there is an annotated bibliography written by leading public health academics, Dr Neville Hicks, Dr Judith Raftery and Jane Harford, of the University of Adelaide.

The department commissioned Francesca Beddie to write the book. Ms Beddie is a generalist historian, who also has fifteen years experience as a Commonwealth public servant. The project was overseen by an editorial board chaired by Departmental Secretary, Mr Andrew Podger. Dr Hicks and Dr Raftery from the University of Adelaide acted as academic advisers.

Chapters one to nine trace the decades of the twentieth century and a closing chapter takes a look into the future. The reader will also find boxes throughout the text. These can be read in the context of the narrative or on their own. Some deal with specific diseases, others give biographical information or chart the development or certain institutions. There is a timeline at the bottom of the text that marks other significant events in Australia's political and social history.

This is not an institutional history, although the Department of Health is a central character. The book sets out and analyses the development of what is today a national health system delivering high quality health care to most of the population. It also gives the reader some insight into the policy-making process and the mindsets of those within the bureaucracy and political life, as well as in the health profession, who were involved in the establishment of the system.

The reader will encounter a number of recurring themes in the book: Australia's federal structure; the mixture of public and private in the delivery of health services; the manner of financing the system; the state's role in public or population health; the influence of technology; and the rise of the informed consumer.

The story of health in twentieth-century Australia is a positive one. Advances in science and in the health-care system have substantially increased the chances that Australians will live out the natural span of human being's life. In 1900, life expectancy for men was 52; 55 for women. By 1996, the figures were 74 for men and 81 for women.

However, there are also unresolved health problems. Life expectancy for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population remains at the 1900 level for other Australians. Putting Life into Years examines some of the reasons for the long neglect of Indigenous health, in particular the racist views which prevailed at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the lack of a national approach to Indigenous Health matters until the seventies.

The final chapter raises some issues for the new century. It cautions against complacency in the face of the remarkable technological achievements of the past fifty years or so. For while the threat of bubonic plague, which opened the twentieth century, may be gone, there are new epidemics to contend with. And while science is making extraordinary discoveries that may prolong life and even create it, it is still up to human beings to ensure that such discoveries are handled in a humane and ethical way.

The layout of the book is designed to illustrate the dynamism of the story and to put a face to some of the public servants and other characters who have been integral to the development of our national health administration. A splash of colour amidst faded black and white photographs reminds the reader that not all that is modern is new. To read history is a means of preparing for the future, to learn from past efforts and bring perspective to current endeavours.

The book was launched in August 2001 by Dr Michael Wooldridge.

Top of page

General information on the history of health, medical discoveries and illness

For information about the history of health, medical discoveries and illness, consult the following Duke University site: Medicine and Madison Avenue, The National Humanities Center and the John W Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History.