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Chuter, Charles Edward (1880–1948)

by Doug Tucker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Charles Edward Chuter (1880-1948), public servant, was born on 11 March 1880 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, third child of Charles Rowe Chuter, clerk, and his wife Rosa, née Boreham, both English born. Educated at Fortitude Valley State Primary School and at Brisbane Grammar School (on a scholarship), Chuter was a short, stocky, ginger-haired young man who in his spare time enjoyed dinghy sailing. In July 1898 he joined the Home Secretary's Department as a clerk. Appointed first clerk in March 1911, he apparently dealt both with local government and health administration problems, occasionally travelling from the capital to resolve disputes between local councils. He was also active in the emerging town-planning movement and was to be the honorary organizing director of the Second Australian Town Planning Conference and Exhibition, held in Brisbane in 1918.

After T. J. Ryan's government took office in June 1915, Chuter was involved in research for and the implementation of Labor's programme of enlarging ('greaterising') the State's major city areas. His far-sighted conclusions, tabulations and analyses of data relevant to cities in Queensland, interstate and overseas were published in his monographs, Local Government Administration (1919) and Local Government Law and Finance (1921). In 1920 E. G. Theodore's ministry reformed local government elections by replacing voluntary voting based on property qualifications with compulsory adult franchise. This change evidently prompted Chuter to conceive a radical approach to vesting powers in local government.

In 1922 he was promoted assistant under-secretary in the Home Secretary's Department. On 12 December he married Ethel May Jones at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Fortitude Valley. The abolition that year of Queensland's Legislative Council facilitated the passage of legislation. The Hospitals Act of 1923 provided for the gradual introduction of a hospital system controlled by boards representing, and funded by, hospital subscribers, local councils and the State government. As local health authorities, councils were compelled to finance the treatment of infectious diseases by hospitals in their area. In May 1924 Chuter was appointed a government representative on the new Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board (chairman 1928-31).

Known as 'Mr Chuter's Bill' before its enactment, the City of Brisbane Act of 1924 established the Greater Brisbane scheme. It endowed Brisbane City Council with the unprecedented 'general competence' power to govern the city and enabled the council to respond imaginatively to unforeseen problems, without the delays and frustrations of having to seek specific authority from parliament.

Once the Greater Brisbane scheme was launched in 1925 and assisted through its first two years, Chuter turned his attention to restructuring local government elsewhere in Queensland. In March 1927 he was appointed one of three members of a royal commission to report on local government areas and boundaries. The commission recommended in May 1928 that the number of local government areas be reduced by almost half; in a minority rider to the report, Chuter proposed a larger reduction. Although the State government backed away from these recommendations in the face of widespread protest from local councils, some of the commission's proposals were adopted in piecemeal fashion over the next two decades.

Responding to complaints in local government and medical circles about aspects of hospital administration, in 1930 A. E. Moore's Country and Progressive National Party government appointed a royal commission. The articulate Chuter argued forcefully before the commission that hospital board-members should represent only those who funded the hospitals; the commission subsequently described as reprehensible his conduct in mentioning certain members of the medical profession, and found a conflict of interest in his roles of chairman of B.S.C.H.'s board and assistant under-secretary. At the government's request, he resigned from the board, but was re-appointed when Labor returned to office in 1932.

From 1 January 1935 Chuter was under-secretary of his department. It was reorganized on 5 December at the direction of E. M. Hanlon as the Department of Health and Home Affairs: Sir Raphael Cilento was appointed director-general of health and medical services. A Hospitals Act (1936) consolidated the 1923 statute and its amendments, and also authorized hospital boards to employ full-time, salaried medical staff instead of honorary doctors. Chuter's massive consolidation of earlier legislation resulted in the acclaimed Local Government Act of 1936 wherein the 'general competence' power which Chuter had devised for Brisbane was extended to all Queensland local governments.

Both Chuter and Cilento were strong minded and clashed on a number of sensitive issues. Chuter enthusiastically supported Sister Elizabeth Kenny's controversial method of treating poliomyelitis; Cilento did not. The continuing tension between the two men eventually led the government to make Chuter acting-director of local authority affairs in December 1941. Next year the office of director of local government was created, to which he was appointed on 1 January 1943.

Chuter retired on 31 December 1947. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died of a coronary occlusion on 31 January 1948 in St Helen's private hospital, South Brisbane, and was cremated. Able though he had been as an administrator of hospitals, he played a more significant role in Queensland local government whose distinctive character he influenced profoundly.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Tucker, 'Charles Edward Chuter: An Architect of Local Government in the Twentieth Century', Queensland Geographical Journal, 3, 1988
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 31 Jan 1948
  • J. Sinclair, My Uncle Charlie (photocopy of typescript, held by author)
  • taped interviews with Sir Allan Sewell, 28 Oct 1977, Miss J. Sinclair, 10 Feb 1988, Mr H. Summers, 26 July 1988, and Mr N. Macpherson, 22 Aug 1989 (held by author).

Citation details

Doug Tucker, 'Chuter, Charles Edward (1880–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chuter-charles-edward-9747/text17217, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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