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The plumbing community has a vital role in advocating to governments and promoting to the broader community the link between good quality plumbing, health, environmental sustainability and, increasingly, economic prosperity.
And today, with COVID-19 impacting our world, we are again reminded of just how important this community is. As Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia celebrates 130 years, the CEO Peter Daly looks back at the historical significance of plumbing and the member association.
Q What are some of the most historically significant roles the plumbing industry has played in the world?
A One of the greatest advancements in public health remains the understanding that many diseases result from pathogens contaminating water; the water we then use for drinking, cooking and washing.
Separating potable and wastewater remains one of plumbing’s greatest contributions to safeguarding health. Unfortunately, this journey is not over. In remote communities in Australia and in developing countries, some people still don’t have this basic need met. Plumbing and economic prosperity go hand in hand.
Plumbing contributes to meeting basic human needs and improving life expectancy. Building essential infrastructure and enabling society to progress and develop remains at the top of the list in terms of development.
Q When did Victoria start to come into its own in joining this international community?
A Between 1883 and 1888 Victoria was undergoing enormous transformation, with a soaring population and housing construction. But Melbourne was still reliant on cess pits, pails and open channels draining into rivers and bays. A typhoid outbreak in 1887 saw the launch of a huge public campaign, which led to a Royal Commission being set up to investigate the sanitary conditions. This eventually led to the formation of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) in 1891.
Q How significant was this positioning in setting up Master Plumbers?
A Master Plumbers was a key driver and advocate in the development of the MMBW and Melbourne’s new sewer system. Master Plumbers provided instruction and examination on ‘sanitary matters’ to support the work of members who were undertaking much of the construction. By 1910, the number of new connections reached 106,000 and the 13-year period from 1897 saw the death rate from typhoid fall by 72%, from diphtheria by 66% and from tuberculosis by 33%; an estimated 28,000 lives saved due in part to the new sanitary system.
Master Plumbers also maintained a ‘register’ of appropriately qualified people who could not only carry out this work, but prior to Australian Standards and Watermark scheme, could maintain the standards for installation and products that could be used.
Q Advocacy is never far from the plumber’s heart. It is a profession bound by a responsibility to the community it serves. What is one of the first advocacy moments for Master Plumbers?
A As early as 1894, Master Plumbers was engaged in robust discussions with the MMBW on plumbing rules and regulations. The association strongly advocated that only an appropriately qualified and experienced person receive a license from the Board to carry out sanitary plumbing and in 1896 made such representations to the Chairman of MMBW and the Premier.
As some current members might observe, this focus still remains an active advocacy position of Master Plumbers with regular attempts from governments to dilute our worldclass licensing scheme and deregulate our industry.
Q What are the most significant milestones in advocacy Master Plumbers has driven?
A Establishing and defending a regulatory framework to ensure that public health risks are appropriately recognised and managed, together with ensuring plumbers are appropriately trained and qualified.
Similarly, Master Plumbers has played a significant role in reforming and consolidating industry technical standard practices.
In past decades, the plumbing industry has unassumingly been at the forefront of environmental sustainability policy and practice, which is no surprise given the plumbing profession’s close interaction with the planet’s water cycle.
Q Most recently, with COVID, the plumber’s role has again come to the fore. How historically important do you see Master Plumbers in this time today?
A Master Plumbers has always existed to be there for members at their times of need. In the past 130 years we have seen world wars, devastating bushfires and health pandemics and our members have been on the figurative and literal ‘front lines’ in response and recovery efforts. Master Plumbers has helped to support, coordinate, inform, train and advocate on behalf of members throughout our proud history and those efforts continue today.