Supporting Ministers - upholding the Values

Last updated: 31 Jul 2012

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The guide examines broad good practice principles associated with establishing the roles and responsibilities that define interactions between Australian public servants and Ministers and their advisers. It also identifies particular issues that present challenges to APS staff from time to time that might call for more specific guidance at the agency level.

Commissioner’s foreword

A good relationship between Australian Public Service agencies, Ministers, and their offices is central to effective Government. It forms a foundation of trust that underpins the ability of agencies to be responsive to the elected Government and the confidence the Government has in the services it receives from agencies.

The Australian Public Service Commissioner’s statutory responsibility in relation to promoting the APS Values includes helping APS employees to build effective working relationships between the political and administrative arms of Government. The APS Values include the requirement to provide frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and to implement the Government’s policies and programmes. They also include obligations to be apolitical and accountable. While most of the time they complement each other, at times the APS Values need to be balanced so that no single Value is pressed to the point that it conflicts directly with another.

The guide draws on analysis undertaken as part of an evaluation conducted by the Commission. It has been written against a background of change in interactions between public servants and Ministers’ offices at the Commonwealth level. We know that the number of Ministerial advisers has grown over the last 20 years; we believe (though no data is available) that the numbers of APS employees interacting with Ministers and their advisers has expanded correspondingly. We are certain that technology and media expectations are increasing the speed of their interactions.

The guide examines broad good practice principles associated with establishing the roles and responsibilities that define interactions between Australian public servants and Ministers and their advisers. It also identifies particular issues that present challenges to APS staff from time to time that might call for more specific guidance at the agency level.

In such cases, many agencies may find that it is effective to document their policies and procedures as agency-specific protocols, and to ensure that they are effectively promoted amongst their employees. Examples of good practice protocols provided by agencies have been included in this guide as appendices for those agencies who may wish to adapt existing models to their own needs.

While access to documented guidance is often critical to employee confidence and effectiveness in handling interactions with Ministers and their offices, it is not a substitute for agency leadership. Senior managers have a role in mentoring others about the handling of sensitive requests. They should also make time to canvass broader considerations around interacting with Ministers and their advisers, and explain the factors conditioning their own judgements. Most important is the role of agency leadership in creating a culture in which these questions can be readily asked as well as effectively answered.

Lynelle Briggs
Australian Public Service Commissioner

Introduction

The quality of the interface between the administrative and political arms of Government has always been central to good government, and the subject of debate. A series of reforms over the last 25 years has improved the responsiveness of the public service to the elected Government and increased its agility and capacity to manage changing community requirements, but also added a new dimension to the debate about the relationship between the Australian Public Service (APS) and the Government.

Growth in the number of Ministerial advisers over the last 20 years across jurisdictions has in turn increased the scale of the interaction between public servants and Ministers and their offices. It is no longer possible to assume that informal mentoring processes will reach all APS employees who should understand their responsibilities in conduct in these relationships.

The impact of both of these factors on APS employees is canvassed in the background section below. Together, they add considerably to the importance of providing formal advice to APS employees to help them make judgements about the application of the APS Values in the provision of support to Ministers and their offices.

Target audience and key messages

This guide discusses approaches to good practice under three headings:

  • Part 1—building effective relationships—basic requirements and responsibilities across the APS
  • Part 2—matters that may be addressed by agency-specific policies and procedures
  • Part 3—promoting effective relationships.

The guidance is primarily directed towards agency heads and their senior managers who are responsible for providing both leadership and guidance to staff about the handling of interactions with Ministers and their offices. However, it may also provide useful information for other APS employees, and for Ministers and their advisers. It addresses the distinct roles played by agency leadership, by managers, by Ministerial liaison areas, and by all employees in ensuring that their interactions with Ministers and their offices are based on mutual respect and on the foundation of the APS Values and Code of Conduct.

Agency heads and their executive should:

  • set the relationship with Ministers and their offices by their own good example, clarify the expectations of Ministers of the service to be provided to them and any general requirements for implementing Government policies and programmes, and ensure this is regularly reviewed with the Minister along with the agency’s performance
  • articulate policies and procedures or provide written protocols for achieving these, consistent with the APS Values and Code of Conduct and any other legal requirements
  • ensure that guidance developed by their agencies deals with those situations known to create challenges for employees
  • emphasise to senior managers the importance of adhering to these policies, procedures and written protocols, and their responsibility to disseminate them amongst all relevant staff
  • be openly available to senior managers and their staff who have questions or are seeking advice, including with respect to the agency head’s or executive’s approach in particular cases.

Senior managers should assist by:

  • adhering to agency policies, procedures and written protocols and ensuring that relevant APS Values and elements of the Code of Conduct are being properly balanced
  • keeping an open door policy, mentoring employees new to working with Ministers and their offices, and providing feedback on their own interactions with Ministers’ offices
  • talking to Ministerial staff where their own staff have raised concerns with them.

Ministerial liaison (or similar relevant) areas in agencies should assist by:

  • making policies, procedures, written protocols and other relevant guidelines accessible to all who need them
  • drawing to the attention of senior managers the scope for communicating these policies, procedures, written protocols and other guidance
  • facilitating regular agency meetings with staff in Ministers’ offices
  • providing feedback to both their agency and staff in Ministers’ offices on ways to optimise the benefits of the working relationship.

All employees should help build effective relationships by:

  • thoroughly understanding the APS Values and Code of Conduct
  • taking advantage of learning and development opportunities that enhance their confidence in balancing the Values generally, and in balancing them when working with Ministers and their offices in particular
  • always seeking advice whenever they have questions about balancing the APS Values and complying with the Code.

Staff in Ministers’ offices will be aware that it is the Minister who makes the decisions. They can assist in establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships by being aware of the statutory responsibilities of the public servants they interact with, including the requirements that public service employees uphold the APS Values and comply with the Code of Conduct.

A number of agencies taking part in the development of this guide identified a need for good working models of agency protocols that could readily be adapted by other agencies. Accordingly, examples of good practice protocols provided by agencies as part of the evaluation have been identified in the discussion included in the guide as appendices.

The 2002–03 State of the Service report noted that there were signs that smaller agencies in particular had limited capacity to implement some APS-wide policies. Some employees in these agencies might find the interaction with offices more difficult, simply because of the infrequency of the contact.1 Given that many non-departmental agencies do have limited dealings with Ministers and their offices, there could be great value in taking a portfolio-based approach to many of the good practice ideas put forward in this guide where small agencies want support of this nature.

Background to the Guide

Under the Public Service Act 1999, the Public Service Commissioner has responsibility for promoting the APS Values and for evaluating the extent to which agencies incorporate and uphold them. In 2003, the Australian Public Service Commission released two key documents (APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads and Embedding the APS Values) to help employees and agencies to understand how the Values should be applied in practice, and how to embed them in agency systems and procedures. In both documents particular attention was given to the relationship between the APS and the Government and the Parliament.

The Commission also investigated the nature of the relationship between the APS and Ministers and their offices for the 2002–03 and subsequent State of the Service reports to provide a firmer evidence base in the light of parliamentary and other public discussion of changes in the relationship.

State of the Service reports and other evidence

In 2003, the Commission for the first time conducted a survey of APS employees as part of its preparation of the annual State of the Service report. That survey revealed that contact between APS employees and Ministers and their offices was very widespread. Twenty-six per cent of APS employees—88% of Senior Executive Service employees, 47% of Executive Level employees and 20% of employees at the APS 1–6 levels—reported having had contact with a Minister or their office in the last two years. The results varied between different types of agencies and the location of APS employees, but demonstrated a far more extensive level of engagement amongst the 130,000 APS employees than previously thought.

Subsequent surveys have confirmed this finding. The questions asked in the 2004 and 2005 surveys narrowed the timeframe from two years to one and confined the nature of the contact reported. Employees were asked to respond in relation to direct contact only(defined as ‘contact in person, by telephone or email’). Nevertheless, the rate of positive responses was only six percentage points lower in both 2004 and 2005 than in 2003.

The 2004 and 2005 surveys added to our understanding of the nature of the interactions being reported. Of those respondents to the surveys who reported having had direct contact with Ministers and/or their offices in the past year, the most common matters concerned were provision of advice (including policy, legal and programme advice) and the provision of factual information (such as programme-related information).

Nature of interaction being reported % of respondents
2003–04 2004–05
Source: 2004 and 2005 State of the Service employee surveys
Provision of advice (e.g. policy, legal, programme delivery) 58 52
Provision of purely factual information (e.g. programme- related information) 57 54
Parliament-related functions (e.g. tabling of documents, possible parliamentary questions, correspondence) 32 28
Provision of public affairs support for the Minister (e.g. preparation of speeches, draft media releases) 30 32
Constituent issues (e.g. electorate briefing, individual constituent matters) 25 19
Administrative arrangements (e.g. arranging travel or meetings) 16 17

Despite the breadth of contact between Ministers or their offices and the APS, the employee survey suggested most employees are comfortable in these interactions. Both the 2004 and 2005 surveys of employees who have had direct contact with Ministers and their offices have found that two-thirds of employees felt highly or very highly confident that they could balance the APS Values appropriately.

There is also evidence to suggest that Ministers and their offices are generally satisfied with the work of their departments. Examples from 2002–03 annual reports include:

  • the Department of Transport and Regional Services: 98% satisfaction with briefing and Ministerial correspondence relating to outcome 1, and 96% for outcome 22
  • the Department of Education, Science and Training: at least 96% of policy advice rated satisfactory or higher on three criteria: presentation, timeliness and quality3
  • the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: ‘the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretary, and their staff, have expressed formally and informally to the Department’s Executive their satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of policy advice and programme administration’4
  • the Department of Finance and Administration: 98% of Budget advice, Ministerial and briefing documents that were rated, were rated satisfactory or above.5

Work published in 2000 by Behm, Bennington and Cummane,6 based on interviews with Ministers, advisers and senior public servants has nevertheless indicated areas where Ministers would like to see better service from APS agencies. In particular, that research presses the need for a strategic approach to the effective alignment and feedback between administrative service provider and political decision-maker. While some of the findings of the Behm study perhaps rely too strongly on a service provider and/or customer model of the relationship between APS employees and Ministers and their offices, it does point very usefully to the need for effective feedback arrangements around the policy development process.

At the same time, respondents to the 2003, 2004 and 2005 State of the Service employee surveys expressed considerable uncertainty about the nature of policies and the content of protocols in their agencies guiding their interactions with Ministers and their offices. There was also a significant minority of employees who expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to balance the APS Values.

Accordingly, while most APS employees are confident in their dealings with Ministers and their offices, and most Ministers and their advisers are generally satisfied with the support they receive from the APS, there is scope for improvement in the quality of service to Ministers, and in employees’ confidence in providing that service. The then Public Service Commissioner concluded in his 2003–04 State of the Service report that

agencies need to put further effort into promulgating and actively supporting policies or protocols on employees’ interactions with Ministers and their offices. The consistency and strength of the survey and evaluation evidence of the last two years suggests that this is a priority for the APS.7

As a consequence of these findings, the Australian Public Service Commission conducted an evaluation of the measures agencies have in place supporting their employees’ interactions with Ministers and their offices. The evaluation drew on:

  • the 2003 and 2004 agency and employee surveys run as part of the research for the Commissioner’s annual State of the Service reports
  • multivariate analyses commissioned especially for the evaluation
  • policies and protocols supplied to the Commission by 20 of the largest APS agencies
  • focus groups conducted with senior APS employees, particularly with Senior Executive Service Band 1 and Executive Level 2 employees
  • interviews with departmental staff who had experience as Departmental Liaison Officers
  • discussions with staff working in Ministerial liaison roles in departments, and relevant staff in the Departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Finance and Administration
  • the Parliamentary Network, a contact group established in 2004, comprising agency staff in Ministerial liaison roles
  • published research.

This good practice guide draws substantially on that evaluation and on subsequent consultation.

Agencies consulted as part of the development of this guide raised the issue of measuring outcomes following implementation of the good practice advice identified. The Commission will continue to incorporate questions in its State of the Service agency and employee survey questionnaires and to make available benchmark data on agency arrangements, employee understanding of those arrangements, and employees’ confidence in managing challenges arising in the course of their interactions with Ministers and their advisers. Those agencies that do not receive their own agency- specific results because of size and sampling issues are invited to make use of the Commission’s questions in their own agency surveys and read their own outcomes against Service-wide benchmarks and those established for medium and small agencies.


1 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2002–03, 2003, p. 199,

2 Department of Transport and Regional Services, Annual Report 2002–03, pp. 26, 81,

3 Department of Education, Science and Training, Annual Report 2002–03, Chapters 3, 4 and 5,

4 Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Annual Report 2002–03, ‘Overview of Performance Framework’

5 Department of Finance and Administration, Annual Report 2002–03, Chapter 3,

6 A. Behm, L. Bennington and J. Cummane, ‘A Value-Creating Model for Effective Policy Services’, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2000, pp. 162–78.

7 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2003–04, 2004, p. 40


Part one: Building effective relationships—basic requirements, roles and responsibilities

The Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation found a high level of commitment to building and maintaining effective relationships between APS employees and Ministers and their advisers. This commitment reflected a widespread belief that good relationships between agencies and Ministers’ offices are vital to effective Government, and that if the relationship breaks down, the consequences can be bad for Government and bad for the public service.

Recent analysis of a controversy in the late 1960s, the so-called ‘VIP affair’, suggests that a breakdown in communication and failures in the provision of frank and accurate advice contributed to an incident that damaged the Government of the day, and may have fuelled doubts about the effectiveness of the APS.8 Former APS departmental Secretary Tony Blunn said the same thing regarding his experience in the APS in the1990s, at the time of the ‘sports rorts affair’.9 A.J. Ayers, when Secretary of the Department of Defence, generalised the consequences of a breakdown in the relationship between APS employees and Ministers and their offices as follows:

The simple truth is that where there is significant conflict or significant lack of cooperation between a Minister’s office and his or her department, it is the performance of the Minister which suffers. In this event, particularly when a Minister is under pressure, it is easy for the office to develop a bunker mentality. To use a military analogy the classic Soviet armour defensive pattern was for the tanks to form into a circle like a western wagon train, with friends inside and everyone outside being the enemy … There are plenty of examples at a federal and state level that this tactic is disastrous for Ministers. A constructive working relationship between advisers and department officials is essential.10

As Roger Beale (then Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Heritage) has outlined, ‘a very rewarding relationship [can be founded on] a mutual respect for the different roles of the private Office and the Department’:

It follows from all this that Ministerial staff do not have any executive power or other legal authority to direct APS employees, but in a professional and cooperative arrangement they can provide early advice about the Minister’s policy leanings. This can be taken into account in advice provided by the Department, but of course it does not overtake the obligation for comprehensiveness, accuracy and timeliness. At the heart of a good working relationship is a mutual respect for the different roles of the private office and the Department. One is there to serve the Minister’s priorities and needs, the other to deliver the Government’s programmes and provide policy advice in accordance with the values and obligations set out in the Public Service and Financial Management Acts, and any other relevant legislation.11

1.1 Basic requirements

The relationship between APS employees and Ministers and their offices exists within a framework of laws and guidelines. These include the constitutional and statutory framework within which agencies and Governments must act, and the Prime Minister’s Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility.12

1.1.1 The statutory framework

Public servants, Ministers and parliamentarians operate under the law within a democratic political system in which there is ultimate accountability of Governments to the Australian people through the electoral process. Many commentators over the last two decades, in endorsing the need for greater responsiveness, have highlighted that the elected Government alone has the authority to determine the public interest in terms of policies and programmes, while public servants assist Governments to deliver that policy agenda and those priorities. The public service does, however, have a responsibility for protecting the public interest in terms of ensuring the integrity of government processes, including compliance with the law and fair and impartial decision-making in accordance with approved guidelines. It also has an important role in providing Governments with a longer-term perspective to decision-making and policy making, including a balanced view of the impact of policy options on the Australian community as a whole.13

The Values that guide decision-making reflect the core principles of public administration that have applied in comparable systems of government for over a hundred years. Since 1999 these have been set down in the Public Service Act at section 10. Together with the Code of Conduct, these form the statutory foundation underpinning the conduct of all APS employees. While most of the time they complement each other, at times the APS Values need to be balanced so that no single Value is pressed to the point that it conflicts directly with another.14

Three key APS Values apply to interactions with Ministers and their offices. These are that the APS is:

  • apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner
  • responsive to the Government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the Government’s policies and programmes
  • openly accountable for actions, within the framework of Ministerial responsibilities to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public (sections 10(1)(a)(f) and (e) of the Public Service Act 1999).

Being apolitical does not mean being ‘independent’: it means providing advice that is not influenced by party political considerations, or not acceding to requests from a Minister’s office that would involve engaging in party political activities. An apolitical APS is one whose staffing is free from political interference and that performs its functions in an impartial and professionally detached manner, unaffected by individual employees’ political allegiances.

Following the passage of the 1999 Public Service Act, the Public Service Commissioner released APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads, developed to assist APS employees to understand the practical application of the APS Values and Code of Conduct in common and unusual circumstances, and to assist agency heads to establish policies and procedures that promote the APS Values and ensure compliance with the Code. Those parts of that guide bearing on interactions with Ministers and their offices underpin good practice in managing these relationships, and have been incorporated in this guide for that reason.15

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Apolitical, impartial and professional

The role of the APS is to serve the Government of the day: to provide the same high standard of policy advice, implementation and professional support, irrespective of which political party is in power. This is at the core of the professionalism of the APS.

The APS works within, and to implement, the elected government’s policies and outcomes. While it is not independent, it is well placed to draw on a depth of knowledge and experience including longer-term perspectives.

Good advice from the APS is unbiased and objective. It is politically neutral but not naïve, and is developed and offered with an understanding of its implications and of the broader policy directions set by government.

APS employees have a role to assist Ministers with their parliamentary and public roles, such as drafting speeches.

In the course of their employment, however, APS employees should not engage in party political activities such as distributing political material, nor should they use office facilities or resources to provide support of a party political nature such as producing political publications or conducting market research unrelated to programme responsibilities.

Employees should discuss any concerns they have about what constitutes an effective apolitical and impartial role with senior management. Senior management, in turn, may need to discuss the matter with the Minister or the Minister’s office.

Responsive

Responsiveness to the Government demands a willingness and capacity to be effective and efficient. Responsive APS employees:

  • are knowledgeable about the Government’s stated policies
  • are sensitive to the intent and direction of policy
  • take a whole of government view
  • are well informed about the issues involved
  • draw on professional knowledge and expertise and are alert to best practice
  • consult relevant stakeholders and understand their different perspectives
  • provide practical and realistic options and assess their costs, benefits and consequences
  • convey advice clearly and succinctly
  • carry out decisions and implement programmes promptly, conscientiously, efficiently and effectively.

Responsive advice is frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely (APS Value (f)).The advice should be well argued and creative, anticipate issues and appreciate the underlying intent of government policy. Responsive advice is also forthright and direct and does not withhold or gloss over important known facts or ‘bad news’.16

Responsiveness demands a close and cooperative relationship with Ministers and their employees. The policy advisory process is an iterative one, which may involve frequent feedback between the APS and the Minister and his or her office.

Responsive implementation of the Government’s policies and programmes (APS Value (f)) is achieved through a close and cooperative relationship with Ministers and their employees. Ministers may make decisions, and issue policy guidelines with which decisions made by APS employees must comply. Such Ministerial decisions and policy guidance must, of course, comply with the law 17 and decisions by APS employees must meet their responsibilities for impartiality and efficient, effective and ethical use of resources.

Accountable

Accountability is one of the foundation values of the APS, helping to define its role as a key institution in Australia’s democratic system.

APS employees work within an accountability framework comprising a continuum of accountability relationships:18

  • Governments are accountable to the Australian people at elections
  • Ministers are responsible for the overall administration of their portfolios and accountable to the Parliament for the exercise of Ministerial authority
  • public servants are accountable to Ministers for the exercise of delegated authority and through them to the Parliament19
  • public servants are also accountable for their performance through agency management systems.

Public servants must also conform with the law, and may be held to account through the legal system.

APS employees must be frank, open and cooperative when, under external review processes, they are providing information to statutory officers or bodies such as the Commonwealth Auditor-General, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Federal Privacy Commissioner and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

In addition to upholding the Values, all APS employees are required to comply with the Code of Conduct (set out in the Public Service Act 1999 at section 13). One aspect of the Code that is central to their relationship with Government is the obligation under section 13(6) to maintain appropriate confidentiality about dealings with any Minister or Minister’s member of staff .

Laws specific to an agency can also affect the relationship between a Minister and that agency. It is important that, in these cases, agencies work to ensure that their employees(and, of course, their Ministers) are aware of how laws might affect their agency in distinctive ways. This can include statutory frameworks for decisions about individuals and individual organisations, the management of grants etc., which determine procedures APS employees must follow.

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Complying with the law

APS employees have an unequivocal responsibility to comply with all applicable Australian laws, including:

  • the Public Service Act 1999
  • the Criminal Code Act 1995
  • the Crimes Act 1914
  • Acts administered by or relevant to agencies, dealing with, for example, social security, taxation, health and the environment
  • financial legislation, particularly the FMA Act and where relevant, the CAC Act
  • administrative and employment law dealing with, for example, antidiscrimination, privacy, freedom of information, health and safety, the making and disposal of records and reviews of decisions.

There may also be regulations, formal directions, agency instructions and guidelines, drawing on legislative provisions or taking account of judgements by the courts. Employees should be familiar with relevant statutes and instructions and know when and how to obtain more detailed advice about them quickly and cost effectively.

1.1.2 The Prime Minister’s Guide

The Prime Minister’s Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility provides guidance on Ministerial conduct to Ministers and their staff . This is how it describes the relationship between Ministers and Government departments:

The Australian Public Service (APS) exists to provide advice to the government, and give effect to its policies. The Service is based on a number of important principles, including: high standards of honesty, integrity and conduct; equitable service to the public; provision of frank and comprehensive advice to Ministers; a strong emphasis on responsiveness to the government, the Parliament and the community; party-political impartiality; and staffing based on merit.
It is important that there be trust between Ministers and public servants, and each must contribute to the establishment and maintenance of the trust. Ministers should be scrupulous in avoiding asking public servants to do anything that the APS principles do not permit, and in particular should not ask them to engage in activities which could call into question their political impartiality.

The Guide also outlines aspects of the role of Ministers’ offices in liaising with departments:

Ministerial staff provide important links between Ministers and departments when the Minister is unable to deal with departmental staff personally, and add essential political dimensions to advice coming to Ministers. A close and productive relationship between a Minister’s staff and the Department maximises the Minister’s effectiveness. Ultimately, however, Ministers cannot delegate to members of their personal staff their constitutional, legal or accountability responsibilities. Ministers therefore need to make careful judgements about the extent to which they authorise staff to act on their behalf in dealings with departments.20

1.2 Roles and responsibilities

Effective leadership is critical to ensuring that agency staff are confident in managing day-to-day relationships with Ministers and their offices.

The 2003–04 State of the Service report indicates that two-thirds of APS employees who had been in direct contact with Ministers or their offices in the 12 months to June 2004 felt highly or very highly confident that they could balance the APS Values appropriately during those interactions. Ten per cent had low or very low levels of confidence. Importantly, levels of confidence vary considerably between agencies.

We know that high levels of confidence among employees in their capacity to balance apolitical professionalism and responsiveness to Ministers are correlated with awareness of agency protocols providing guidance on the handling of routine and special case interactions. We also know that employees who reported that the most senior managers in their agency do not act in accordance with the Values were more likely to have moderate, low or very low confidence in their ability to balance the Values when interacting with Ministers or their offices. There is a similar correlation where immediate managers are not perceived to act in accordance with the Values.21

These correlations are unsurprising. The application of Values-based principles can require both concrete guidance and, on occasion, mentoring from trusted and experienced senior practitioners. It is the responsibility of agency heads and senior managers to provide guidance of both types and foster a culture in which such guidance can be sought and applied with confidence.

1.2.1 Agency heads and the executive

Agency heads have an important role in providing advice, implementing Government decisions and meeting Government objectives within a whole of government context. They are entrusted to continue building on the achievements of the past and improving the performance of the public service.22

Agency heads set the overall tone for the relationship with Ministers and their offices. Tony Blunn, former departmental Secretary, discussing his time as head of the Environment Department at the time of the ‘sports rorts affair’, reflected that

the Department took its lead from me and thought that if I thought it was okay to be a bit cavalier with [Ministerial] staff members, they thought it was okay to be a bit cavalier with staff members … [H]ad I been a better departmental head in that instance, I believe I could have helped [the Minister] avoid that situation. And that is what I mean by working constantly on the relationships and managing the relationships to achieve the results you need to achieve.23

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Ensuring an effective relationship

Building and maintaining a constructive relationship with Ministers and their offices is a key responsibility of APS employees. Consistently working to the APS Values is crucial to such relationships, as are a sound appreciation of the respective roles and a spirit of cooperation and good communication.

Agencies have found it useful to provide guidelines to employees, agreed with the Minister, on handling such interactions in an effective and professional way.

It is normal practice for Ministers and Ministerial employees to deal directly with a range of APS employees, not just the Agency Head. This is beneficial in that it allows the Minister and his or her employees to seek advice from those APS employees with the most expertise, or the most experience in the particular topic under consideration. More senior employees should be kept informed, and the Agency Head immediately advised about matters of particular sensitivity or significance. Agencies might also specify employees or the level of employees, who are authorised to provide formal advice to the Minister.

Although not all communication needs to be written, it is good practice to provide advice on key issues in writing, addressed to the Minister. File notes on significant decisions should also be created and retained.

Differences might on occasion arise in the relationship and they are best resolved through discussion and consultation. APS employees should discuss any concerns they have with their manager and ultimately the Agency Head. Where a disagreement does not involve the Agency Head directly, his or her intervention may be needed to resolve the issue.

On very rare occasions an Agency Head may have a serious disagreement with the Minister, or the Minister may have publicly criticised the agency. If the matter cannot be resolved through discussion, it is appropriate for the Agency Head to write to the Minister, setting out his or her concerns, clarifying the nature of the issue and options available, and seeking explicit written instructions on the action required.

An Agency Head might consult with colleagues such as the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Public Service Commissioner and, depending on the issue, the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department. If still concerned, the Agency Head can raise the issue with the Prime Minister. The Minister should always be kept informed.

In the event a Minister believes an APS employee is not upholding the APS Values, the Minister would normally raise the matter with the Agency Head. Concerns about an Agency Head may be raised with the Prime Minister, or with the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or the Public Service Commissioner. There is provision under the PS Act (s. 41(1)(f )) for the Commissioner to inquire into alleged breaches of the Code by Agency Heads.

Opportunities to review the relationship arise in particular with the appointment of a new Minister or agency head, the issuing of a Charter Letter by the Prime Minister to a Minister at the beginning of a term of Government, any performance assessment process for the agency head, the preparation of corporate plans and reviews of agency performance such as those required for annual report purposes.

Good practice may include agency heads clarifying expectations of Ministers about the service expected from the agency, any general requirements for implementing Government policies and programmes, and how these might be met consistent with the APS Values and any other legislative requirement. These expectations would then be regularly reviewed with the Minister along with the agency’s performance.

Agency heads might also involve Ministers and also their staff in corporate planning processes, as one means of setting out those expectations. Performance indicators can also be included in Portfolio Budget Statements and monitored through annual reports.

Most agencies have clearly defined administrative arrangements, managed by Ministerial liaison areas, for handling Ministerial correspondence, briefs, speeches etc., which are regularly revised, particularly with changes of Minister. These implicitly set some standards of service by defining context and style and, in most cases, expected timeframes. Agencies can, however, go further in their policies and guidelines on standards of service. Agency heads and the executive need to keep all relevant employees informed of any changes in the Minister’s requirements or priorities, and of any feedback on performance.

Such feedback may be garnered through formal or informal arrangements. Thirty-nine per cent of agencies reported through the 2003–04 State of the Service report that they used a formal rating system to collect Ministerial feedback; 21% reported having a formal requirement that oral feedback was to be collected from the Minister; and 25% reported a formal requirement that oral feedback be collected from Ministerial staff. Others draw on comments made in the course of regular meetings. This variation may reflect a concern raised during the evaluation that some Ministers were not consistent in using the ratings pro formas attached to briefing material, and that as a result the pro formas might be being filled in informally by other staff .

Other ideas on high quality services are contained in Allen Behm, Lynne Bennington and James Cummane’s work on a value-creating model for effective policy services, referred to above, John Uhr and Keith Mackay’s work on evaluating policy advice, and Australian National Audit Office guidance on developing policy advice and on managing parliamentary workflow.24

Good practice can be to set out agency standards for quality of service to the Minister. The Department of Transport and Regional Services has issued a publication, General Principles for the Preparation of High Quality Advice to Ministers, which is available to Ministers and staff. This publication was also referred to in the Commission’s earlier good practice guide on Embedding the Values.

Agency heads might also discuss with the Minister, at least on an annual basis, the quality of the service that has been provided, as part of their own performance assessment where relevant, and as one input to their assessment of the performance of senior managers.

Where there are several Ministers and/or Parliamentary Secretaries, a departmental Secretary may find that there are advantages in nominating a deputy to provide dedicated support to each of those who is not the senior portfolio Minister. While the Secretary has responsibility to each Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, this approach can ensure closer and more continuous support, and a focus for feedback on performance.

Agency heads can also, by example, foster close relations with advisers built on trust and understanding of their respective roles.

It can be good practice to invite the Minister’s Chief of Staff and advisers to meetings of the agency’s executive or management committee at least once a year, to discuss mutual support for the Minister and any issues arising from the respective roles and responsibilities of the agency and the office, including APS employees’ responsibility to uphold the APS Values.

The Public Service Act 1999 requires agency heads to promote as well as to uphold the APS Values. One important means of doing so is to ensure that important guidance is articulated in agency-specific policies, procedures and written protocols (discussed in Part 2 of this guide).

Agency heads should also regularly remind senior managers of their responsibility to provide staff with ongoing support in managing their relations with Ministers and their advisers. Working from a number of relevant APS Values, some of which must be balanced at times, can mean that people reach different conclusions from each other about the right course of action in particular situations. An agency’s leadership should foster an environment that encourages discussion around the practical implementation of the Values concerning interactions with Ministers and their offices.

Good practice may include agency heads explicitly reminding their Senior Executive Service staff in particular of their responsibilities to promote the APS Values, and their responsibilities as leaders to encourage discussion of ethical behaviour and of upholding the Values in working with Ministers and their offices. This might be demonstrated by regular discussion in the agency’s executive or management committees of the agency’s general performance in serving the Minister, and of the handling of specific, sensitive issues where the Values have to be balanced.

Good practice could include demonstrating senior management’s support for Values- based decision-making, by incorporating questions in agency staff attitude surveys asking employees about their level of confidence in the decision-making processes of managers during interactions with Ministers and their offices.

As a good example of managing ethical issues generally, the Department of Health and Ageing has conducted an ethics awareness programme entitled ‘Fork-in-the-Road Café’. Its theme is to encourage staff to stop and discuss the issues when faced with an ethical dilemma: to seek advice from respected colleagues, or expert guidance on precedents and legal requirements, before proceeding. Sometimes there may be no clear answer, as competing considerations need to be balanced: but if there has been serious consideration and discussion with colleagues, the basis of the decision can be explained with knowledge that all aspects of the issue were fully explored.

The benefit of seeking guidance should not be underestimated, and exists for staff at every level. Agency heads themselves will benefit from discussion with a deputy or with colleagues in other agencies. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Public Service Commissioner may also offer useful counsel.

1.2.2 Heads of statutory authorities

The government has agreed in response to the Uhrig report (recommendation 2) that the role of portfolio departments as the principal source of advice to Ministers, should be reinforced by requiring statutory authorities and office holders to provide relevant information to portfolio Secretaries in parallel to that information being provided by statutory authorities and office holders to Ministers. The broad intention of this requirement is to reinforce the role of portfolio Secretaries as the principal source of advice to Ministers in relation to all matters within the portfolio.

This decision emphasises the importance of maintaining effective communication channels between departments and statutory authorities in the portfolio to ensure that the Department is well placed to provide timely advice to the responsible Minister. Such channels could include links between Ministerial liaison areas and parliamentary workflow systems (see section 1.2.8), as well as direct discussions between heads of statutory authorities and the Secretary of the portfolio department.

In the case of statutory authorities, it should also be noted that following the Uhrig report the Government has agreed that Ministers should periodically issue statements clarifying government expectations, and bodies should be requested to respond through Statements of Intent. Ministers will make both Statements of Expectation and Statements of Intent public. Examples of matters which could be included in statements include: references to communications protocols and/or Memoranda of Understanding between the body, the Minister and/or the department, and the expectation that they be kept up-to-date; key performance indicators (where appropriate and agreed); government objectives and/or policies relevant to the body; and any other expectations agreed with the body.

1.2.3 Senior managers

All members of the Senior Executive Service have a statutory responsibility to promote the APS Values and compliance with the Code of Conduct by personal example and other appropriate means (section 35(2)(c) of the Public Service Act 1999). Personal example is important: the State of the Service employee survey results make it clear that staff confidence in addressing challenges arising during their interactions with Ministers and their offices depends to a significant degree on their belief that their managers act in accordance with the Values.

Consultations conducted for the Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation all strongly indicated that employee learning about relationships with Ministers and their offices generally takes place ‘on the job’, through peers, supervisors, and by example. There is clearly scope for the Senior Executive Service to regularise this process, thus ensuring that the messages being communicated are clear and intentional, and can be put in context. Most of the issues that can arise in specific situations are dealt with in Part 2 of this publication. But staff have indicated they want more day-to-day advice and guidance from their organisation on these issues, as well as wanting them dealt with more systematically through agency protocols.

Members of the Senior Executive Service need to make clear their expectations of the conduct required of staff in interacting with Ministers and their offices. If they believe that any of their own actions could give rise to a perception of inconsistency with the APS Values or Code of Conduct, they need to make the rationale for their decisions known. Senior Executive Service employees should use such discussions as a means of encouraging staff faced with difficult situations, and inexperienced staff , to approach them without fear if any problems arise.

The Senior Executive Service should also put in place arrangements to ensure that they are regularly advised of the extent and content of informal exchanges that are taking place between staff for whom they are responsible and the Minister’s office. In programme areas, where advisers may be seeking information from a number of junior staff , members of the Senior Executive Service should arrange to make themselves the initial point of contact for the Minister’s office.

Good practice can involve regular efforts by the Senior Executive Service to advise and mentor staff on managing relations with Ministers’ offices generally.

Good practice can involve encouraging staff to approach senior managers and/or a central area of expertise and support, rather than be left to make decisions on their own and feel isolated.

Good practice could also involve regular feedback to staff on particular priorities and requirements of particular Ministers. Feedback can be based on periodic discussions between senior managers and the Minister’s office and/or reviews of the agency’s feedback received from the Minister for the previous six months or year, for example. This kind of material may also be suitable for discussion in staff meetings.

Questions for agency heads, the agency executive and senior managers to consider include:

  • When did you last discuss with your staff balancing the APS Values in particular cases, particularly the Values of impartiality, accountability and responsiveness? Do you need to do more on this?
  • Do staff understand the difference between responsiveness and second guessing the Minister?
  • If your staff differed over how to balance the APS Values, would you know they had different views from each other? Would they involve you in a discussion about their different views?
  • Would they know they had different views from each other? Would you know if their views differed from your own?
  • Have you ever had someone from outside your area (e.g. from your corporate area or the Australian Public Service Commission or the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet) come to a staff meeting to facilitate a discussion on balancing the Values?
  • Have you had experiences that have led you to reconsider how the APS Values should be balanced in interacting with Ministers’ offices? Have you shared what you learned from those experiences?
  • Do employees come to you with questions about upholding the APS Values in dealing with the Minister or the Minister’s office? If staff are not raising these sorts of questions with you, how are they resolving them?
  • Do you need to make any changes to help ensure that you will be a port of call for an employee with a question? Do you need to intervene in their discussions with a Minister or their office to resolve the question?
  • What steps could you take to be better able to provide advice when someone comes asking?
  • What steps are you taking to ensure that you are aware of the contact that is occurring between your staff and the Minister or their office?
  • Do your staff have opportunities to share any of their experiences that might lead you to reconsider how you are balancing the APS Values in interactions with the Minister and their office?

1.2.4 Working with advisers

A Minister’s Chief of Staff and advisers are an important part of the machinery of government advice and support. They can be a valuable resource for agencies as well as for Ministers, helping them to plan for the Minister’s needs and to tailor their support to the Minister’s priorities.

Ministerial staff are not directly accountable to Parliament. The system of employing Ministerial staff under legislation that is separate from the Public Service Act 1999 has provided Ministers with essential support that reflects party political positions, without compromising the apolitical role of the APS. Indeed, it can act as a buttress to the apolitical role of the public service, by providing Ministers with a source of advice that is explicitly political.

When the distinct roles of Ministerial and APS staff are not acknowledged or understood, the overlap can compromise APS employees’ duty to be apolitical and impartial, and constrain the agency’s ability to provide good and timely advice or to implement the Government’s policies and programmes effectively. While APS employees are responsible through their agency heads to the Minister and cannot be directed by Ministerial advisers, they are bound to build cooperative, professional relationships with Ministerial advisers that do not compromise the distinct role of the APS and the operation of the APS Values:

. . . in clarifying the proper relationship between the Service and Ministerial advisers there is no doubt a relationship of trust is essential, where the different responsibilities of the two groups are acknowledged, along with the common commitment to serve the Minister; this is best formed when the working arrangements between advisers and APS employees are articulated clearly by agreement between the Minister and Agency Head; advisers need to appreciate the legal responsibilities of APS employees to the APS Values and Code of Conduct; they also need to appreciate the formal lines of authority from the Minister to the Secretary, and from the Secretary to Agency staff; public servants similarly need to understand that close and ongoing communication with advisers is essential, but that advisers do not have the power to direct; all public servants need to understand that confidentiality is critical to a relationship of trust between the Agency and its Minister.25

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Working with Ministers’ offices

Ministerial staff are employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff ) Act 1984 (the MoP(S) Act) administered by the Minister for Finance and Administration, and the Special Minister of State.

While the way in which Ministers’ offices interact with agencies will vary from one office to another, there are some general principles that apply.

Much of the communication between Ministers and APS employees takes place through the Ministers’ employees. APS and Ministerial employees should work towards achieving a professional and cooperative relationship. In providing accurate and timely advice, trust is crucial.

APS employees, including Agency Heads, cannot always expect direct access to the Minister, and Ministerial employees may contact APS employees other than the Agency Head directly for information.

Ministerial employees provide important guidance about the Minister’s policy and requirements and, by so doing, help APS employees to be responsive. However, they cannot direct APS employees. In forging good relationships with Ministerial employees, APS employees need to recognise their different roles and responsibilities. Ministerial employees have a political role to help the Minister fulfil his or her aims across the portfolio. APS employees are responsible to the Minister through the Agency Head and have an apolitical role to help the Minister draw on the depth of knowledge and experience in the APS, provide a longer-term perspective, and ensure due process under the law.

It is Ministers, of course, who have final authority and accountability to Parliament, and APS employees, through their Agency Head, are responsible to them.26 The relationship between the APS and Ministerial employees needs to always recognise this final authority. APS employees must, if in doubt, check that directions conveyed by advisers have Ministerial authority and that professional APS advice has been conveyed to the Minister.

If a public servant needs to contact an adviser from a different Ministerial portfolio, contact should be made through their own Minister’s office and the relevant agency should be involved in any discussions. Similarly, an adviser needing to contact an APS employee in another portfolio should make contact through that portfolio’s Ministerial office and the relevant agency within their own portfolio should be involved in any discussions.

With the Prime Minister’s approval, Ministers can engage a limited number of consultants under the MoP(S) Act to work on specific projects or conduct reviews on their behalf or under the direction of the Agency Head (where agreed). In the latter case, it will be useful to establish a common understanding between all parties about the consultant’s role and reporting requirements.

As noted above, Ministerial involvement in corporate planning processes can be an important ingredient to ensure responsiveness to the Government. Such interaction with the Minister’s office may usefully be extended to Ministerial advisers and include corporate planning activities. Staff in Ministers’ offices are generally busy, particularly during sitting periods and in the lead-up to elections. But with appropriate planning, agencies can work with Ministerial advisers to ensure they can contribute to planning processes and comment on the agency’s performance.

Most departments have regular meetings between the Secretary and the portfolio Minister(s), with similar arrangements for many other agencies between the relevant agency head and the relevant Minister. However, regular meetings with relevant advisers and/or Ministers’ Chiefs of Staff can also be valuable. In the case of portfolios whose Ministers have little time, regular meetings or phone conversations between agency heads and the Chief of Staff are particularly likely to be most useful. They can help the Chief of Staff in his or her role in managing the advisers, and help the agency head in his or her role in managing APS employees, to ensure there is mutual understanding of respective roles and responsibilities and of the shared objective to serve the Minister.

Regular meetings between programme managers and relevant advisers can also help to build effective relationships. Having a standing meeting, with an agenda on which either party can place items, helps ensure there is a forum in which issues can be addressed before they become problems. Because some advisers, and in particular the Chief of Staff, will have heavy demands on their time, regular meetings may be subject to regular postponement. In such cases, it would be desirable to ensure as a minimum that there is ongoing informal contact.

Agency heads and senior managers should ensure that feedback loops include consultation with stakeholders at appropriate points during policy development and implementation, and that relevant Ministerial advisers are kept informed and involved as issues emerge and responses are developed.27

All agencies, whether or not they have close and frequent dealings with their Ministers or their offices, can aim to establish regular, mutually beneficial discussions to improve responsiveness and mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities.

Face-to-face meetings with departmental staff help to build the relationship and enable all parties to share information about issues, frameworks, programmes etc.

Good practice can involve agencies organising regular meetings between agency leadership and the Minister’s advisers. These could be issue-specific or could involve regular briefings reflecting hot issues or other Ministerial priorities and departmental issues requiring urgent attention.

Good practice can involve agencies initiating briefings for individual advisers when they start a job, to assist the adviser to get up to speed more quickly and ask questions.

Good practice can involve inviting Ministerial advisers to be part of agency, business or branch planning days and processes.

Good practice can be to maintain open and ongoing communication between the Chief of Staff and the agency’s Ministerial liaison area. The different responsibilities of different advisers, and any particular requirements by the office for handling communications, should be regularly discussed.

Getting the linkages between individual advisers and line managers right depends in part on a clear mapping of responsibilities between Ministerial advisers and agency outputs or programmes or structures. Formal statements of roles and responsibilities can make a substantial contribution to clear and productive working relationships between Ministers’ offices and APS employees.

Good practice can include preparing and maintaining accessible lists of the allocation of responsibilities amongst Ministerial advisers for departmental staff, and conversely preparing and maintaining accessible lists of departmental programme responsibilities for the use of Ministers and their advisers.

Operational requirements can over time introduce practices that, while making good practical sense, need to be handled in a way that maintains the fundamental relationship between Ministers and the APS. For example, the establishment of email links between Ministerial staff and APS employees increases the speed and frequency of request and response, but reduces their formality. This may lead to some uncertainty as to whether the advice is authoritative, and whether it is advice to the Minister. Similarly, it may lead to uncertainty in the other direction, as to whether requests or directions are from the Minister or the adviser.

As advised in APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads, it is good practice to address all formal advice to the Minister, rather than to an adviser, and it is important to appreciate that advisers do not themselves have power to direct. That said, advisers have a very good appreciation of the Minister’s requirements and views, and APS employees should normally accept that they are speaking on behalf of the Minister. But there will be occasions where that might need to be tested directly. Where agencies believe that their Minister’s inclination to pursue a particular option is not based on a full appreciation of the facts, they must advise their Minister accordingly.

So, while informal communications are essential for an effective relationship, there should be some constraints (such as up the line reporting) to ensure appropriate quality control. These are addressed in more detail in Part 2: Agency protocols, and would generally reflect an understanding that APS employees cannot be directed by Ministerial advisers, and where this occurs employees may seek confirmation of Ministerial directions and decisions, or provide additional advice to ensure the Minister’s directions or decisions are well informed.

Good practice includes ensuring that employees, or their managers, are always confident that instructions are coming from the Minister by:

  • in the case of briefs, requiring the Minister’s signature before acting on the recommendations
  • in the case of significant oral requests from Ministerial staff, requiring subsequent confirmation in writing or by email that the request is endorsed by the Minister.

The relationship can also be strengthened by improving exchange of information on current issues and prioritisation of incoming work. Some agencies provide brief bulletins to their Minister(s) at the end of the week. Ministerial liaison areas typically prepare these bulletins, with input from the heads of each area of the agency. Sometimes line areas also prepare such bulletins where major issues are involved. Bulletins can be particularly valuable in situations where:

  • the Minister has a large office where many staff interact with the agency
  • there are new staff in either the Minister’s office or the senior levels of the agency
  • a Minister is carrying a particularly heavy workload
  • a hot issue is running and regular updates are required.

Some agencies draw these bulletins from weekly reports provided for internal management purposes, such as Monday morning executive meetings to identify key activities for the week.

Good practice can include asking the Minister and/or senior Ministerial advisers if they want a written weekly bulletin from agencies that provides an overview of agency or portfolio issues requiring urgent attention.

Areas of common concern to Ministers and their advisers relate to timeliness and accuracy. If advice is subject to unavoidable delay, the Minister’s office should be advised well in advance that the usual workflow timetable will not apply. Conversely, where Ministerial offices have been aware of planned meetings it is critical that they be encouraged to ensure that the relevant information reaches the agency in time to ensure that the agency can provide appropriate support. Problems of this nature should be obviated by regular meetings between the Minister’s Chief of Staff and the senior agency manager responsible for parliamentary workflow.

Advisers are not always aware, or do not always adjust demands, when there is heavy pressure on a particular part of an agency. If that is the case, an agency head may need to discuss priorities with the Chief of Staff or directly with the Minister.

If an error has been made in advice provided to the Minister or an adviser, or in factual material cited by the Minister and related to portfolio responsibilities, it is vital to ensure that the Minister is quickly and clearly advised that this is the case. It is most particularly important that errors be reported quickly when the Minister might use, or has already used, the information in Parliament.

Speed in recovering errors is a critical indicator of appropriate sensitivity to the political risks to which a Minister can be exposed by inaccurate information. In any event, bad news rarely gets better when it is not passed on. Telephone advice should be followed up in writing.

Good practice is to respond quickly to requests, or contact the Minister’s office promptly to explain why a fast response is not possible. It does not help the relationship when employees know something will take a number of days or weeks, but do not tell advisers that this is the case.

Good practice includes always correcting incorrect information as quickly as possible, without being delayed by fear of any embarrassment.

Areas of occasional concern to agency heads and their staff in working with Ministerial advisers include crossing the boundary into politically partisan discussions or activities, proposing to circumvent due process in allocations or appointments, and adopting an abusive approach to seeking information or advice. Some of these matters are addressed in Part 2 of this guide, and in the associated extracts from the Commission’s APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads.

Good practice should include avoiding (or at least not contributing to) party-based discussions, particularly with Ministerial staff, while nevertheless being prepared to seek confirmation of what Government policy on a given matter may be.

Participants in the Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation told us that in their experience different Ministers absorb information in different ways, and that the same is true for different Ministerial staff. Some participants in the Commission’s evaluation found that telephone contact with the Minister’s office, in conjunction with written and email communication, enhanced acquaintance with Ministerial staff and helped build trust in the relationship.

Good practice can involve finding out what modes of communication suit the staff in the Minister’s office, and making this information available to staff in the agency. But this should not undermine the requirement to seek and document the Minister’s decisions finally.

Support services for Ministers and their offices are provided by the Department of Finance and Administration. These include advice on entitlements to Senators, Members, office holders and their respective staff. Agencies consulted in the preparation of this guide indicated that there would be benefit in easy access to the guidelines setting out these entitlements and clarifying any responsibilities that agencies have in bearing the costs associated with them. This would forestall confusion about the respective roles of Ministers’ offices, agencies and Finance in providing financial and in kind support.

Guidance on entitlements of Ministers and their staff provided by the Department of Finance and Administration is included in Appendix 2.

Questions for agency leadership to consider include:

  • What processes are available for frank discussions with the Chief of Staff and advisers of areas of concern either to the office or to the agency?
  • What is your agency currently doing to give the Minister’s office advance warning of issues requiring urgent attention? Is it systematic enough? Is it reliable enough?
  • Would a weekly bulletin help your Minister’s office?

Questions for Ministerial liaison areas to consider:

  • Would a weekly bulletin help your Minister’s office?
  • Would they like it to contain:
    • coming events for the Minister or the agency
    • the agency’s understanding of prioritisation of incoming work
    • contact information for officers within the agency who are responsible for incoming work for the next week
    • status reminders on outstanding work, for either the agency or the Minister’s office
    • any other item.

1.2.5 Working with new Ministers and new or less experienced advisers

Agencies may need to adapt to the requirements of new Ministers immediately following an election or reshuffle, or the departure of their Minister from the Ministry. The arrival of a new Minister creates an opportunity to review existing arrangements for providing services to the Minister, and for establishing good working relations with the Minister and any new advisers accompanying the Minister. This can be particularly critical where the Minister does not have previous experience in working with public servants in a portfolio.

Agencies will generally prepare incoming Government briefs (following an election) or incoming Minister briefs (following the appointment of a new Minister). Th ese will address the structure and staffing of the Department and portfolio agencies, the workof the portfolio, key portfolio legislation, consultative mechanisms and stakeholders, options for the implementation of the Government’s election commitments, and matters requiring urgent action. Where Ministers have no direct prior experience of the role, briefs should also provide a working overview of key process issues (such as those associated with Budget preparation and the legislative process).

New or less experienced advisers may also benefit from the provision by the Ministerial liaison area of training, mentoring or briefing on subjects or processes critical to their interaction with the agency.

New Ministers may also require agency support in establishing office systems, including workflow and record keeping arrangements, links to the agency’s email systems and agency electronic resource documents, as well as briefing on options around procedures for structuring the interactions between the office and portfolio agencies. The Ministerial liaison area will generally provide the Minister’s office with administrative level support in setting up the office. The Minister, Chief of Staff and agency head are likely to be directly involved in higher level decisions.

Costs of establishing and maintaining Ministerial office services are generally subsumed under Ministerial entitlements, with the costs shared between a number of agencies. A list of those items under the entitlements framework whose costs can be met by the Department of Finance and Administration is included in Appendix 2 to this guide.

Good practice may involve providing new Ministers and their staff with advice and support in establishing office workflow and record keeping arrangements, links to portfolio agencies’ email systems and electronic resource documents, as well as briefing on options around procedures for structuring the interactions between the office and portfolio agencies. Where Ministers have no direct prior experience of the role, incoming briefing should provide a working overview of key process issues (such as those associated with Budget preparation and the legislative process).

Good practice can involve providing new or less experienced advisers with a combination of training, mentoring or briefing on subjects or processes critical to their interaction with the agency. Such support could also be used to begin to establish personal relations between the adviser and relevant agency staff.

1.2.6 Working with non-Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries

The respective roles of portfolio Ministers, non-Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are set out in the Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility issued by the Prime Minister.28 Public servants should provide support to all Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries in the portfolio.

Extract from A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility

Some ministerial portfolios have only one Minister. In other cases, however, to enhance ministerial control over complex and diverse functions, more than one Minister administers a portfolio. In those cases the Prime Minister will determine the Minister who is to have ultimate responsibility for the portfolio (the portfolio Minister).

The portfolio Minister, subject to any general views of the Prime Minister, determines the matters that will be the responsibility of any other Minister in the portfolio.

The portfolio Minister is, subject to Cabinet, responsible for the direction of policy and the public presentation of it.

The portfolio Minister represents the interests of the portfolio in Cabinet,

  • but other Ministers in the portfolio are entitled to bring forward submissions related to their allocated areas of responsibility; and to be present when Cabinet discusses those submissions.

In the Parliament:

  • the portfolio Minister is ultimately accountable for the overall operation of his/her portfolio. Other Ministers in the portfolio, however, also have a clear accountability for areas of responsibility allocated to them and are required to answer questions in relation to those areas; and
  • with the agreement of the portfolio Minister concerned, other Ministers in the portfolio may also, in relation to the whole portfolio, take legislation through, and respond to matters of public importance.

The Prime Minister sets out his priorities and strategic direction for each portfolio in a letter sent to respective Ministers shortly after they are appointed. This letter may also indicate in broad terms how the Prime Minister sees functions being shared by Ministers in the portfolio.

Parliamentary Secretaries

Parliamentary Secretaries may also be appointed to help particular Ministers deal with the heavy workload in a portfolio.

The duties Parliamentary Secretaries may undertake are allocated following consideration and discussion with the respective portfolio Ministers. The duties carried out by a Parliamentary Secretary may include:

  • policy development work in nominated areas of the portfolio
  • considering and signing replies to correspondence as appropriate
  • carriage of legislation in the Parliament
  • chamber duty
  • representing the Minister at official engagements
  • attending Executive Council meetings in accordance with arrangements coordinated by the Executive Council secretariat.

Ministerial responsibilities in a portfolio are allocated by the portfolio Minister subject to the general views of the Prime Minister (which may be set out in the Prime Minister’s charter letter). Public servants in portfolios with more than a single Minister may need to ascertain the lines of responsibility for particular or emerging issues if there is no clear or explicit articulation of the roles of the portfolio and non-Cabinet Ministers and the way in which they mesh to provide consistent government.

It is important that portfolio Secretaries talk to all Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries in the portfolio at an early stage following their appointment to establish how they see their roles and their respective responsibilities. It can be helpful in these circumstances to commit any agreement reached by Ministers to writing so that a departmental or agency head can work through the division of responsibilities with senior management and it can then cascade down.

Some public servants work substantially or exclusively with one Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) in a portfolio and others may work equally substantially and exclusively with another Minister. Officials with non-Cabinet Ministers should represent the views of their Ministers with the same strength as those of a portfolio Minister. They should also ensure that there is a common understanding of Cabinet and Budget strategies at both Ministerial and agency levels. Ministers in a common portfolio should get consistent advice and at the same time the confidences of both should be respected.

Where difficulties arise, it can be good practice for public servants to take issues up the line as necessary so that they can be handled by more senior officers or the agency head, who can ensure that matters are raised with Ministers in the broader context. Junior staff should alert senior managers to any problems so they can ensure that any issues are resolved.

It can also be good practice for senior managers to raise any operational inconsistencies that emerge with the Chiefs of Staff of the Ministers concerned so that they can manage the interface. Issues associated with Ministerial engagements and public appearances will generally be resolved directly between Ministerial offices.

It can also be good practice for a portfolio Secretary to make a particular Deputy Secretary responsible for supporting a particular non-Cabinet Minister. This will ensure that that Minister is properly advised and is kept in touch with relevant general departmental communications as well as those that are tailored to that Minister’s particular functions.

To support exchange of information, it can be good practice to determine if all briefs provided to non-Cabinet Ministers should be copied to the portfolio Minister.

Sometimes, non-Cabinet Ministers are new to Ministerial work and may require support in working through administrative processes, including operational aspects of the preparation of Budget submissions or draft legislation, or the support provided by agencies to Ministers for particular engagements. Advisers in the offices of non-Cabinet Ministers may also be new to Government and to the detailed accountability arrangements applying to their Minister and to APS staff (see section 1.2.5 above on working with new Ministers and new or less experienced advisers).

Departments should support Parliamentary Secretaries in their role of supporting portfolio Ministers. This includes ensuring that there is agreement with other Ministers in the portfolio about the role taken by Parliamentary Secretaries in particular activities in their portfolio, and that such agreement cascades down to the relevant APS staff .

1.2.7 Departmental Liaison Officers

It is important that, in working to ensure a good relationship with Ministers’ offices, each agency’s leadership is deploying the right employees as Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs), and using them effectively to help manage the flow of Ministerial papers and briefs and as sources of feedback about relationships with those offices.

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Departmental Liaison Officers

Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) working in Ministers’ offices are employed under the PS Act and the APS Values and Code apply. The DLO’s role and employment arrangements should be agreed between the Minister and the Agency Head and it is generally good practice for the DLO to report to the Minister’s chief of staff , day-to-day. The DLO’s role is to facilitate a cooperative and professional relationship between the agency and the Minister. A DLO must not be involved in party political activities or political advocacy. A DLO should be recalled when an election is called unless it is appropriate for them to remain in the Minister’s office to manage ongoing liaison work, while not being used directly or indirectly for party political purposes.

The DLO’s role is to facilitate liaison between Ministers’ offices and their departments and/or agencies. They are APS staff rather than Members of Parliament (Staff ) Act 1984 employees; their obligations under the APS Values and Code of Conduct are the same as those of all other APS employees. They are not meant to be used as additional Ministerial staff, and DLOs should avoid activities that could create a perception that they are being used for party political purposes.

Different Ministers and departments may have different approaches to the way DLOs best complement the work of advisers and the work of policy and programme managers in the agency. While the DLOs are employed by the agency, they are critical to the success of the Ministerial office and the Minister’s ability to get the best service from the agency.

Prior to appointing DLOs, agency heads should establish a clear understanding of the role the DLO is to play in the Minister’s office. There are advantages to an agency in providing the Minister with a DLO who is able to clarify the background and directions of agency policy advice and the more complex agency procedures. Particular Ministers may, however, prefer to deploy a DLO in a more strictly administrative capacity and request a DLO with more operational experience. In some departments, the DLOs play a role in tracking material from the Department and this works well.

Good practice may be ensuring that, subject to the Minister’s requirements, DLOs are selected at sufficiently senior levels to ensure that agency advice is put on the table and that complex agency procedures can be fully explained to the Minister or advisers, and to provide relevant feedback to agency heads. This should not militate against considering a short rotation for graduate trainees or other junior staff with strong potential, to assist an experienced DLO in a Minister’s office.

DLOs are likely to have a detailed understanding of how a Minister’s office works, what the Minister wants, and how to interact most successfully with the Minister and their staff. If there are problems looming in the relationship, DLOs may be the first to know. An agency’s leadership can make use of this information to re-position the agency’s services, if that is necessary. DLOs need to know that they have direct access to speak frankly with the agency head or the deputies or other senior staff in the agency.

Good practice is fully briefing and preparing DLOs for their role in Ministers’ offices, including making clear to them their role as a member of the Minister’s team and their role as a departmental officer.

Most small agencies will not have their own DLOs. However, that need not stop them liaising with DLOs in their portfolio or establishing part-time or shared arrangements.

There may also be value in arranging for DLOs to meet relevant small agency staff from time to time, to build familiarity and with it confidence in handling the relationship.

Good practice can be inviting DLOs and/or senior Ministerial advisers during non-sitting periods to contribute to briefing sessions about their roles and on how their Minister’s office works. These sessions could be organised at the local branch level, whole-of agency level or opened up to people from agencies across the portfolio. This last suggestion may be particularly valuable for agencies that have only a few staff who deal with Ministers’ offices, and who feel unable to justify organising a session for that small number of staff.

Because DLOs are a vital link between the agency and the Minister’s office, keeping

DLOs ‘in the loop’ is an important part of building and maintaining effective relationships.

Agencies’ Ministerial liaison areas play an important part in this, but it is something that every staff member who deals with Ministers’ offices should be conscious of.

It can be good practice for APS staff to copy DLOs into email correspondence with staff in Ministers’ offices.

While it is important that DLOs are kept ‘in the loop’ in correspondence, it is equally important that they are kept ‘in the loop’ of what is going on in their agency. Most DLOs work long hours almost exclusively within the confines of their Minister’s office. At the same time, they remain responsible for pursuing agency objectives, and are accountable to and overseen by an agency manager.

Good practice can be regular discussions between the DLO and the agency head or deputy, and a debriefing of DLOs by the agency leadership and the manager of the Ministerial liaison area on a regular basis and on their return to the agency.

Good practice can be ensuring agency staff know their DLOs, particularly in large agencies, and know to talk to them about issues that the DLOs might be able to help resolve.

The unusual working arrangement, where the employee is effectively ‘outplaced’, can create challenges for DLOs in balancing the APS Values. They are both thoroughly immersed in the activities of the Ministerial office and required to comply with the APS Values and Code of Conduct, as they remain APS employees. This is both an issue for daily conduct of the DLO and an issue for agency handling of the DLO’s performance management arrangements.

Good practice can be to take a careful and cautious approach to performance assessment of DLOs, ensuring feedback is obtained from both the Chief of Staff and relevant agency managers. Another approach may involve providing a prior set payment in lieu of performance pay while the officer is in the DLO position.

Questions for an agency’s leadership to consider include:

  • Do you allow the Minister the opportunity to comment on proposed agency DLOs?
  • Do you provide briefing to new DLOs on the APS Values and their responsibilities in the Minister’s office before they take on their appointments?
  • Do you ensure that your DLOs are sufficiently senior to be aware of and able to analyse their agency’s relationship with Ministers’ offices, and able to communicate effectively with the Minister’s staff and agency leadership about the relationship as necessary?
  • When did the senior managers in your agency last talk to a DLO, other than about a specific briefing or agenda item?
  • Does your agency systematically debrief its DLOs?
  • Do your senior managers get to share the information that DLOs have?
  • Does the Ministerial liaison area of your agency get included in any debriefing session?

1.2.8 Ministerial Liaison Areas

Most departments and large agencies have dedicated parliamentary and/or Ministerial liaison areas (referred to as Ministerial liaison areas in this guide).These units are usually involved in managing both Ministerial and parliamentary workflow, and will often work closely with any DLOs the agency has in Ministers’ offices. They are important to the relationship between Ministers’ offices and agencies.

Participants in the Australian Public Service Commission’s study stressed the importance of Ministerial liaison areas that were strong, well staffed, and pro-active, had strong quality assurance measures in place to assist with briefings and documentation fl owing to and from the Minister’s office, and were able to provide process advice in cases that are sensitive or arise infrequently. Ministerial liaison areas also have a key role to play in preparing, promoting and advising on policies and procedures that an agency may have in place to support interactions with Ministers and their advisers. Policies and procedures of this nature are the subject of Part 2 of this good practice guide, Agency protocols.

It is good practice for Ministerial liaison areas to take a pro-active approach to managing the relationship. This can include:

  • being pro-active in seeking to identify and anticipate Ministers’ offices’ needs
  • working closely with DLOs, meeting them regularly to get their views on how the relationship is travelling
  • meeting regularly with each Minister’s Chief of Staff to keep abreast of issues, including staffing changes in the Minister’s office
  • ensuring that every part of the agency finds out about changes in priorities and processes for working with a Minister’s office
  • providing early feedback (including oral feedback) to relevant areas of the agency on the quality and timing of briefs, Ministerial correspondence etc.
  • preparing (in consultation with senior managers, Ministers and their offices) policies and procedures on normal working arrangements and on sensitive situations and situations that arise infrequently, and ensuring that employees are aware of those policies and procedures (see Part 2: Agency protocols)
  • acting as the champion of the broader objectives of the policies, procedures or protocols applying to interacting with Ministers and their advisers, and as a network contact point, trainer, and expert for quick on-the-spot advice.

Participants in the Commission’s evaluation were overwhelmingly positive about the value of having relatively centralised, well-resourced Ministerial liaison areas staff ed at appropriate levels in their agencies with reliable resources that facilitate the preparation of written material including responses to Ministerial correspondence, briefings, responses to questions on notice, and draft press releases, speeches or talking points. Good parliamentary workflow systems use or are linked to sophisticated templates and require processes to be followed that minimise the opportunity for mistakes, and maximise the chance that material going to Ministers’ offices will be timely and in the form needed.

Good practice can be having a single area of the agency, and a single workflow management system, within which all work (other than meetings) for Ministers’ offices can be recorded or processed.

Workflow systems should be designed to be equally useful for both APS employees and Ministerial staff. Managing parliamentary workflow is the subject of a better practice guide prepared by the Australian National Audit Office (see the Better Practice Guide on Managing Parliamentary Workflow). An updated version of that guide was released in April 2003.29

The Australian National Audit Office guide provides considerable practical advice and assistance to agencies regarding the handling of parliamentary workflow, which for this reason is not considered here in any detail. It is, however, worth noting that participants in the Commission’s evaluation were strongly supportive of making available model letters or briefs, and of systems that used key points and electronic templates to minimise routine reliance on detailed manuals and other reference material.

Good practice can be maximising the extent to which required styles and formats are built into templates, thus minimising employees’ reliance on manuals. This can in turn allow manuals and guides to be more concise and to focus on the most important points. The Department of Health and Ageing has prepared a guide based around key points for dealing with Ministerial material. The manual prepared by the Department of Defence includes sample briefs and briefing formats covering:

  • sample letters from the portfolio Ministers and staff, the Minister Assisting the portfolio Minister and staff, and the Parliamentary Secretary
  • an example of an interim reply
  • an example of a privacy concern letter
  • the format of a Ministerial submission
  • the format of a Question Time brief
  • the format of a Hot Issues brief
  • the format for a response to a question on notice asked in the House of Representatives
  • the format for a response to a question on notice asked in the Senate
  • the format for a general brief or submission to the Minister
  • the format for a Freedom of Information submission
  • the format for an event and/or speech brief
  • the format for a brief for a visit
  • the format for a brief for a meeting.

This material is organised through a comprehensive website that enables Defence to provide staff with up-to-the-minute advice on the provision of support to Ministers and all related processes, templates and background information (such as the Cabinet Handbook). It is updated continuously and significant updates are promoted through various media.

It is valuable if liaison areas have sufficient capacity to be pro-active about working with all employees to raise awareness of agency processes and policies, rather than only responding to material, and issues, as they happen to come to the attention of the liaison area. There may be agencies that have sufficiently diverse functions, and/or serve several Ministers, so that devolved policies on some matters are appropriate. However, this possibility should be balanced against employees’ need for having clear, agency-wide policies that are administered by a Ministerial liaison unit.

Good practice can be having consistent standards and policies operating across the agency, rather than devolving them to individual groups or branches.

Some statutory authorities, statutory office holders and small agencies may have relatively few dealings with Ministers and accordingly have less familiarity and fewer skills to assist in managing the interactions effectively. Where these entities have the same requirements in working with Ministers’ offices (in terms of processing Ministerial responses, question time briefings, Cabinet and legislation documents), and where confidentiality and security requirements permit, they may welcome support in the effective management of workflow and advice on procedural arrangements to support interactions with Ministers’ offices.

The provision of such support by departments is consistent with the spirit of the Government’s response to the Uhrig report. An enhanced flow of information between statutory authorities and departments will help to ensure that portfolio Ministers can receive advice on agency matters from their portfolio Secretary.

Good practice can involve providing central support for portfolio agency interactions with Ministers’ offices where these entities have the same requirements as departments.

Portfolio-based support can take at least four forms:

  • Particularly in the case of very small agencies, allowing and encouraging those agencies who wish to do so to reach agreement with portfolio departments on making appropriate use of departmental Ministerial liaison areas
  • Considering taking a portfolio approach to templates, handbooks and guidelines, so that each portfolio agency does not have to prepare and produce its own material
  • To the extent feasible, taking a portfolio-wide approach to the purchase, design, maintenance and use of workflow management software
  • Using the expertise and experience of portfolio departments as a training and development resource to enhance capacity in other portfolio agencies in serving Ministers’ offices.

The Australian Public Service Commission recognises that for agencies with relatively limited interaction with Ministers’ offices, guidelines such as those applying to Ministerial correspondence may not be able to be ‘automated’.

Good practice in these cases can involve providing a checklist for employees to use for the major types of documents prepared for Ministers’ offices.

1.2.9 The Parliamentary Network

The Parliamentary Network is a whole of government initiative designed to provide support and share information about parliamentary services provided by departments. The network, originally set up by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in early 2004, works like a ‘community of practice’, that is, the network facilitates three avenues for members to share information. They are:

  • regular information sessions on topical issues affecting many parliamentary service areas
  • an email chat list, to share information, ask questions and maintain contacts
  • a website that contains useful information from information sessions and other sources. The website is password protected for network members.

The Parliamentary Network met a number of times in 2004 to discuss issues such as electronic workflow systems, caretaker conventions and changes to the Legislative Instruments Act 2003. The majority of departments are members of the Network and responsibility for hosting meetings is rotated through those members.


8 Ian Hancock, ‘The VIP Affair 1966–67: The Causes, Course and Consequences of a Ministerial and Public Service Cover-Up’, Australasian Parliamentary Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 2003.

9 ‘Sports Rorts Shock’, Canberra Times, 27 July 2003, p. 1. The ‘Sports Rorts’ or ‘Whiteboard’ affair was widely reported in the period November 1993 to February 1994. The Minister and her staff had used a whiteboard to list the applicants for a set of grants, to compare their claims and to compile a list of successful applications. The record was deleted when the whiteboard was cleaned at the end of the day giving rise to accountability concerns. The Minister subsequently resigned.

10 A.J. Ayers, ‘Not Like the Good Old Days,’ Garran Oration, Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 55, No. 2, June 1996, p. 7.

11 Roger Beale, ‘Ministerial Responsibility for Administrative Actions: Some Observations of a Public Service Practitioner’, Agenda, Vol. 9, No. 4, 2002, p. 302.

12 Prime Minister, A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 1998.

13 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2002–03, 2003, p. 37, para. 1

14 Andrew Podger, ‘Managing the Interface with Ministers and the Parliament’, Senior Executive Service Breakfast presentation, 23 April 2004.

15 Extracts from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice are from the revised edition (2005). Where necessary, references to documents have been updated (e.g. Guidance on Caretaker Conventions ( July 2004) replaces Guidelines on Caretaker Conventions (September 2001)).

16 Australian National Audit Office, Developing Policy Advice, Performance Audit Report No. 21, November 2001.

17 Agency or programme legislation may specifically constrain Ministerial direction.

18 A description of accountability in the APS context is given in the Management Advisory Board publication, Accountability in the Commonwealth Public Sector (1993).

19 In some statutory authorities, relevant legislation requires considerable independence from Ministers, and accountability direct to the Parliament.

20 Prime Minister, A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 1998, pp. 13, 14.

21 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2003–04, 2004, p. 40

22 Foundations of Governance in the Australian Public Service, published by the Australian Public Service Commission in 2005, provides a substantive overview of agency heads’ obligations and responsibilities and canvasses the key elements of the legislative and policy framework within which agency heads operate.

23 ‘Sports Rorts Shock’, Canberra Times, 27 July 2003, p. 1.

24 John Uhr and Keith Mackay (eds), Evaluating Policy Advice: Learning from Commonwealth Experience, Federalism Research Centre and Commonwealth Department of Finance, Canberra, 1996; Australian National Audit Office, Developing Policy Advice, Performance Audit Report No. 21, November 2001, ; Managing Parliamentary Workflow, Better Practice Guide, April 2003.

25 Andrew Podger, ‘Beyond Westminster: Defining an Australian Approach to the Roles and Values of the Public Service in the 21st Century’ (Address to IPAA Seminar), 2 May 2002, Agenda, Vol. 9, No. 4, 2002, pp. 301–2.

26 Section 57 of the Public Service Act 1999 sets out the responsibilities of Secretaries of departments, providing that they are responsible for managing the Department, ‘under the agency Minister’. Section 57 also requires Secretaries to assist Ministers to fulfil their accountability obligations to the Parliament to provide factual information about the operation and administration of the Department.

27 A. Behm, L. Bennington and J. Cummane, ‘A Value-Creating Model for Effective Policy Services’, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2000, pp. 168–9.

28 Prime Minister, A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, 1998, pp. 2–3.

29 Australian National Audit office, Managing Parliamentary Workflow, Better Practice Guide, April 2003.

Part two: Agency protocols

The Public Service Commissioner’s statutory functions (section 41(1)(a) and (b) of the Public Service Act 1999) include requirements to evaluate the extent to which agencies incorporate and uphold the APS Values, and the adequacy of their systems and procedures for ensuring compliance with the Code of Conduct (which includes the requirement at all times to behave in a way that upholds the APS Values).These requirements imply that agencies will have policies and procedures that reinforce and promote the Values.

The extent to which agency policies and procedures need to be documented into clear protocols to guide relations with Ministers and their offices is a matter for judgement. The Commission’s good practice guide on Embedding the Values gives examples of good agency practice in supporting particular APS Values, including those that bear on relationships with the Government and the Parliament. Through the evaluation underpinning this guide, and through its State of the Service employee surveys, the Commission has found that there is a strong case for more extensive articulation of agency guidance in this area.

  • Of the significant proportion of APS employees who have contact with Ministers’ offices, around a third have consistently reported facing a challenge in balancing the Values. Agency-specific results available for large agencies varied widely. In 2005, the proportion of relevant employees in these agencies that had faced a challenge ranged from 12% to 52%, yet only two of the fifteen large agencies surveyed in 2005 reported having agreed written protocols relevant to resolving staff concerns that may arise about the nature of requests from Ministerial offices. Nine reported having unwritten protocols.
  • Employee confidence in dealing with Ministers’ offices varied markedly by agency, suggesting that agency-specific arrangements are influential.
  • Guidance that agencies provide to their staff is mixed in its coverage so that, for example, most agencies reported that they have a ‘minimum sign off ’ policy that requires written briefs and other work for Ministers to be cleared at the Senior Executive Service level before they go to a Minister, but few agencies reported having policies guiding phone contact. Some policies and procedures are not documented, or are not readily accessible to staff outside Ministerial liaison areas.
  • Staff consulted through the State of the Service employee survey and during the Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation made clear the benefits of explicit protocols both to inform them in making judgements, and to provide an important reference in the event of disagreement with the Minister’s office, reducing the need to escalate an issue to more senior levels.

Good practice can include documenting agency policies and procedures on normal working arrangements with Ministers and their offices as written protocols, in consultation with the Minister and Chief of Staff. Such guidance may cover general agency arrangements, and roles and responsibilities, as well as specific issues that may raise challenges from time to time.

Cross references in agency protocols to Australian Public Service Commission guidance and to guidance from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet may help to avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’ while also giving the agency material some additional authority.

A number of agencies taking part in the development of this guide identified a need for good working models of agency protocols that could readily be adapted by other agencies. Examples of good practice protocols provided by agencies as part of the evaluation have been cited throughout this section and can be found at length in separate appendices to this publication.

2.1 Protocols on general agency arrangements, roles and responsibilities

Articulation of general agency arrangements, and roles and responsibilities may include administrative issues (such as workflow arrangements and pro formas), and material on agency-specific aspects of roles and responsibilities, such as agency-specific legislation, and agency arrangements for delegation (for example, under financial legislation). Clarifying these for both agency employees and for the Minister’s advisers can be important in strengthening the relationship through better understanding of respective roles and responsibilities.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry maintains a Parliamentary Liaison Handbook with date-marked pagination that contains a current listing of all the responsibilities of individual advisers in the Minister’s office.

It is important for APS employees to understand the legal framework in which they work. This does not apply only to the increasing numbers of APS employees interacting with Ministers’ offices: one in three Executive Level employees and one in four Senior Executive Service staff are engaged from outside the APS. Ministerial advisers may find such information equally helpful, as it can assist in clarifying respective roles and responsibilities.

Good practice can be preparing a document describing the framework within which the agency operates, particularly any relevant statutory and administrative features, and roles and responsibilities. The Department of Transport and Regional Services has developed a Legislation Directory that is summarised at Appendix 3.4 to this guide.

Staff turnover in Ministers’ offices is typically higher than in agencies, and staff in an office may also change roles over time. It can be helpful for employees to know the structure of the Minister’s office and what changes take place in it.

Good practice can be the inclusion in agency materials of a regularly updated listing of the names and responsibilities of all staff in Ministers’ offices.

The Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation found that most information regarding interacting with Ministers’ offices was learned through experience on the job. In this environment, there is often simple information that could be of use to employees that never gets written down, because it is assumed that employees either know it or will be told.

Good practice can be documenting for employees’ information basic details about the channels of communication that the agency maintains with Ministers and their offices. One department, for example, prepares documentation setting out the regular meetings that occur between agency officials and the Minister, and how these work (example at Appendix 3.5).

Good practice can be preparing information sheets that explain to employees the agency’s operations on a normal parliamentary sitting day. The online information sheet used by the Department of Family and Community Services offers a useful example of this practice (see Appendix 3.6).

Good practice can be having statements of employees’ roles and responsibilities in dealing with Ministerial material. An example of this practice as it applies to Ministerial correspondence taken from the Australian Taxation Office is at Appendix 3.7.

Minimum levels of ‘sign off ’ are important to assuring quality and are not intended to constrain information flow. This can sometimes be misunderstood. Similarly, requirements for oral communications to be reported up the line are aimed at ensuring that advice is comprehensive and accurate and draws fully on all the expertise and experience that is available. Such requirements can be particularly useful in the initial period after the appointment of a new Minister to ensure the agency head and senior management can quickly appreciate the Minister’s requirements, style and priorities. They are also important to allow the agency head to meet his or her statutory responsibilities for managing the agency.

Good practice can be to spell out who is authorised to clear briefs or provide advice and how less formal communications are to be reported up the line, as measures to promote quality of service to the Minister and the office.

Questions for agency leadership and Ministerial liaison areas to consider include:

  • How would a new employee in your agency, or a new member of the Minister’s office, find out about the statutory framework in which you operate, that might impact on interactions between your agency and Ministers’ offices?
  • How would they find out with whom to deal in their Minister’s office on particular issues?
  • Do staff understand the standards of service expected, and their responsibilities to keep senior management informed?

2.2 Specific protocols on specific issues that may raise challenges

There will inevitably be situations in which employees may have concerns about the nature or content of what is wanted. Sometimes these concerns will be entirely legitimate; sometimes they may reflect a misunderstanding of the request or inappropriate protection of a previous policy or practice. Public servants must be responsive to Government, but they are also required to be apolitical and accountable, and to comply with the law. Agencies should establish whether there are particular issues that present challenges to their staff from time to time and that might call for more specific guidance than that available from the Public Service Commissioner or from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Consultations conducted as part of the evaluation underpinning this guide indicated that APS employees in a range of agencies are more likely to face particular challenges:

  • prior to the caretaker period, as an election approaches, as well as during the caretaker period
  • when discussing advice with Ministers’ offices on disbursement of grants or making appointments of statutory office holders
  • when responding to requests from Ministers’ offices for revised briefing materials
  • in response to requests for electorate-based briefings
  • supporting Cabinet processes
  • supporting Budget processes
  • record keeping (including handling freedom of information requests)
  • responding to parliamentary questions and questions on notice
  • ad hoc requests.

Good practice can be to prepare written policies for APS employees in sensitive situations and in situations that arise infrequently. This advice may vary according to the nature of the agency, the portfolio, and the structure of the organisation, and could address:

  • what kinds of challenges APS employees may experience
  • the sorts of requests a Minister’s office might make that have caused concern in the past but to which it is legitimate to respond consistent with the APS Values
  • the sorts of requests that raise legitimate concerns about balancing the APS Values
  • who can assist APS employees with questions they may have (e.g. Ministerial liaison areas, Senior Executive Service Band 2 managers, the Government Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in certain instances) and where agency-specific documentation is available
  • whether there are certain types of request that should always be referred to someone more senior in the agency.

While it is simply not feasible (or sensible) to have written guidance on every contingency, preparing written policies does provide the opportunity for discussion with the Minister and the office in advance of particular challenges arising, and hence can help to avoid future issues arising.

As a general guide to any such policies, there is a line many agency heads have used in the past: ‘if you aren’t sure about whether you are doing the right thing, ask yourself: would I be confident that this course of action would be defensible if it were raised in Senate estimates hearings?’

Questions for agency leadership to consider include:

  • What steps has your agency taken to determine the areas where your employees would or should require agency policies that guide interactions with Ministers’ offices? What steps could your agency take?
  • What are the most common types of concern employees have about balancing the APS Values in your agency?
  • What policies has your agency developed to respond to these concerns? Do your employees know about them?
  • What information does your agency make readily accessible in response to these concerns?

2.2.1 Caretaker periods

Consultations undertaken as part of the Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation indicated that some agencies experience a build up in requests for briefings and speaking notes in the run up to a caretaker period. Agencies should continue business as normal until an election is actually called, applying the criteria of responsiveness, apolitical professionalism and accountability to judge the appropriate response to these as to all requests from Ministers. Agencies should be careful not to allow the possibility that an election will be called to constrain the capacity of the elected Government to govern.

When caretaker arrangements begin, the Government is still the Government, but by convention a number of important constraints or caretaker conventions come into operation. Agency heads and the Senior Executive Service have particular responsibility for advising Ministers, and staff, of the conventions and their interpretation in particular circumstances as they arise.

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Caretaker arrangements in the election period

The relationship between Government and the APS is subject to particular scrutiny around elections. It is even more important at that time for the APS to be seen to be politically impartial.

APS employees need to be familiar with and follow the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s guidelines about the operation of the caretaker conventions, available on the Department’s website.

In summary, the caretaker conventions are a series of practices that have been followed by successive governments during the period preceding an election for the House of Representatives. While their primary purpose is to avoid actions that would bind an incoming Government and limit its freedom of action, a number of the practices are directed at protecting the apolitical nature of the APS and avoiding the use of Commonwealth resources in a way that advantages a particular party. They deal with issues such as requests from Ministers’ offices for information or advice, the conduct of information campaigns and political participation by APS employees during the caretaker period.

There are also guidelines on pre-election consultation with the Opposition under which shadow Ministers may, with the agreement of the relevant Minister, hold discussions with appropriate APS employees.

APS employees should refer to Guidance on Caretaker Conventions (July 2004) for detailed information. It is important to remember that the ordinary business of Government continues during the caretaker period and the application of the conventions requires judgement and common sense. If APS employees are unsure about how to handle issues that arise during the caretaker period, they should raise the matter with senior agency management in the first instance

While agencies should continue business as normal until an election is actually called, they should discuss with senior managers or the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet any concerns they may have that they are being asked to move beyond their normal functions to provide assistance to Ministers or their staff for the purpose of use during an election. It is not for an agency to determine that factual information will not be provided because it may be used during the campaign. It is, however, important that agencies not be asked to perform work that is not relevant to their responsibilities.

The Government Division within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet not only provides advice on caretaker conventions but also has dedicated staff available during the caretaker period who can advise on issues agencies may identify.30 Relevant guidance is always available on the Department’s website.31 The Australian National Audit Office’s newly updated Better Practice Guide, Managing Parliamentary Workflow, also offers guidance in this area.32 In the period preceding elections, the Australian Public Service Commission runs courses on applying the caretaker conventions.

Good practice can be obtaining advice on caretaker periods from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and circulating it to all staff, indicating that it is the approach to be taken within the agency.

Good practice can be discussing the implications of caretaker convention requirements well in advance with the Chief of Staff, with follow-up discussion with the Minister and Chief of Staff as soon as the election is called and, if possible, before the caretaker period commences.

2.2.2 Disbursement of grants and making appointments

Consultations conducted as part of the Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation identified interactions with Ministers’ offices on disbursement of grants or making appointments as situations in which APS employees might benefit from advice that is tailored to agency circumstances. General guidance provided in APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads refers to broadly applicable statutory obligations and responsibilities in both sets of circumstances.

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 2—Working with the Government and the Parliament

Apolitical, impartial and professional

APS employees are required to be impartial in performing their official duties. In implementing government policies and programmes decisions must be made on merit.

Accountable

APS employees are frequently required to exercise statutory powers, often delegated by, or under authorisation from, Ministers or other office-holders. The accountability requirements will vary according to the nature of the power. When exercising statutory powers, APS employees must understand the specific requirements of the legislation, how it interacts with other relevant legislation and legal principles, any requirements of procedural fairness, and the relative degrees of responsiveness to, and independence from, the views of others, including Ministers and agency management. Some statutory powers are exercised independently of Ministers.

APS employees provide services on behalf of the Government to a wide range of groups and individuals and in doing so:

  • must adhere to the law and to the policies and guidelines of the Government and not pursue a personal view about the public interest
  • are accountable to the Government to provide quality service
  • must deal with all individuals and groups fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously.

Practical application of the accountability Value also involves meeting statutory and administrative reporting requirements. This includes reporting on outcomes and outputs, performance targets and indicators through such processes as Budget documents, business plans and annual reports. It also requires accounting for the effective, efficient and ethical use of Commonwealth resources.

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 5—Working with the Public

Properly exercising powers

One of the ways in which APS employees contribute to the proper functioning of government is by exercising discretion, both in the management of programmes and in deciding individual cases. These decisions may affect the rights and entitlements of people in the community or other APS employees.

When making decisions, APS employees must act in accordance with the law, including the APS Values and Code, and with any government policy and decisions. If a conflict arises between government policy, agency guidelines and the law, the law prevails (see Green v Daniels (1997) 51 ALJR 463). When a decision involves expenditure of public money, a public servant working with the Commonwealth itself must ensure they comply with the requirements of the FMA Act. An APS employee working in a separate legal and financial entity must ensure that expenditure decisions comply with the legislation applicable to that body as well as the CAC Act.

Often an individual APS employee may be the only person fully aware of the wide range of factors relevant to a judgement about the local management of a programme or a decision about an individual case. In these circumstances, particularly careful judgement must be exercised.

APS employees should be aware of their obligations under the AD(JR) Act. The Act identifies a number of improper uses of powers33 that should be avoided. When making a decision under an enactment, decision-makers, including public servants, must not:

  • take account of an irrelevant consideration in exercising a power
  • fail to take account of a relevant consideration in exercising a power
  • exercise a power for purposes other than that for which it was conferred
  • exercise a discretionary power in bad faith
  • exercise a discretionary power at the direction of another person
  • exercise a discretionary power in accordance with a rule or policy without regard to the merits of the particular case
  • exercise a power that is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have so exercised the power
  • exercise a power in such a way that the result is uncertain, or
  • exercise a power in a way that constitutes abuse of power.34

Discretionary grants involve payments that require the exercise of discretion by the portfolio Minister or paying agency. They can involve:

  • ad hoc grants that are made on a one-off basis, as well as grants renewed under continuing programmes
  • grants-in-kind or services-in-kind provided in lieu of grant payments
  • payments which organisations or individuals receive after satisfying eligibility and/ or reporting requirements including some rebates and scholarships.

Agencies can be concerned if it appears that a Minister’s office is suggesting payments, grants or agreements outside the guidelines for grant programmes. The key to making this work effectively is having very clear guidelines for the programme established right at the outset, so that the Department can always be clear about consistency with the guidelines. In most cases, programme guidelines are subject to clearance by, or at least discussion with, the Minister to ensure they reflect Government policy as well as legal requirements.

In addition to portfolio arrangements, the Australian National Audit Office’s 2002 Better Practice Guide, Administration of Grants, provides practical assistance to those who may be involved in the planning, project management and review of grant programmes within the Commonwealth. The guide notes that ‘decision-makers, including Ministers, are not obliged to accept the recommendations of officials but the reasons that they disagree with the assessment should be documented.’35

When the guidelines are clear, there is seldom conflict with the Minister’s office. In the end, decisions about spending Government money are made by portfolio Ministers, except where a grant creates a funding commitment of greater than 12 months, which requires the prior approval of the Minister for Finance and Administration.36 Guidelines are simply that—guidelines for APS employees. Of course, if a conflict arises between government policy, agency guidelines and the law, the law prevails.

The making of appointments is a very significant government activity with important long-term implications. The Cabinet Handbook provides guidance on:

  • which Ministerial appointments are subject to approval by the Prime Minister or, at the Prime Minister’s discretion, the Cabinet
  • considerations that apply in bringing forward such nominations
  • general principles applying to conflict of interest in making nominations.37

If necessary, the Cabinet Secretariat can provide advice on past practice with respect to particular appointments, or how to apply the Cabinet Handbook criteria for determining which appointments require Prime Ministerial or Cabinet endorsement.

If the proposed appointment does not require such approval, the same broad principle can be applied to appointments processes as to the disbursement of grants, that is, agencies should ensure that very clear guidelines are established at the outset, so that the Department can always be clear about consistency with the guidelines. In most cases, guidelines on the making of appointments would be subject to clearance by, or discussion with, the Minister to ensure they reflect Government policy as well as legal requirements.

While agencies can be concerned if it appears that a Minister’s office is suggesting appointments be made outside the established guidelines, when the guidelines are clear, there is seldom conflict with the Minister’s office. Again, if a conflict arises between Government policy, agency guidelines and the law, the law prevails.

Good practice can be ensuring that both the Minister’s office and relevant employees are fully briefed on the processes under which grants schemes and appointments processes operate, including any statutory constraints that may apply. Where appropriate, proposed guidelines should be discussed with and/or agreed by the Minister.

2.2.3 Revising briefing materials

Agencies regularly provide briefings to Ministers. In this context responsiveness to the Government means providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice. Employees providing briefs may receive requests from Ministers’ offices seeking changes or additions to briefs the Minister has received from the agency. This may mean that briefs have not been sufficiently comprehensive or have been overtaken by events, or that new matters have come to light; on occasions, it may represent a request to vary the advice or restrict the scope of the brief.

On dealing with differences of views between the Department and the Minister’s office, participants in the evaluation underpinning this guide emphasised the usefulness of discussing these differences with advisers.

Where briefs have not been sufficiently comprehensive, APS employees can provide supplementary briefing or amend existing briefs. Supplementary briefings have the advantage of ensuring that the agency’s original advice remains intact, while any requests for additional information or advice can be fully met. Amending the existing brief to insert additional material can ensure that all relevant considerations are canvassed together in one place. It is critical that both supplementary briefing and additions to original briefs clarify what advice has been provided at the request of advisers (‘your office has also asked that we canvass …’).

In addition to seeking more comprehensive briefing, advisers may also ask APS employees to vary the advice or restrict the scope of the brief. Advice should not be changed or opinions omitted if the agency remains of the belief that particular arguments should be considered by the Minister. Where any changes to advice are involved, the brief should record the nature of the changes and the source of the request for change.

Consultations preceding this guide encountered a general view that it was appropriate and potentially constructive to deal with requests for additional advice by presenting a range of options, but that the Department should always remain clear about its preferred options and reasons (at the same time, agency responsiveness includes support for implementation of the option chosen by the Minister once the agency’s advice has been considered regardless of whether it reflects the Department’s preferred approach).

Good practice can be ensuring that briefings are comprehensive and outline a range of options for action, and the agency’s analysis of the implications of the options, rather than providing only a single or a limited range of options. Where additional material is sought, it is important that any supplementary briefing or additions to original briefs clarify what advice has been provided at the request of advisers (‘your office has also asked that we canvass …’) (see, for example, General Principles for the Preparation of High Quality Advice to Ministers, prepared by the Department of Transport and Regional Services, at Appendix 3.1).

In general, briefing advice should not be changed or opinions omitted if the agency remains of the belief that particular arguments should be considered by the Minister. Where any changes to advice are involved, the brief should record the nature of the changes and the source of the request.

Good practice can be indicating in any briefing material or record where supplementary briefings have been prepared at the request of a Minister or a Minister’s adviser.

2.2.4 Providing briefings that relate to particular electorates

The public service can be called on by Ministers to provide briefing material and speeches tailored to specific electorates. This is quite in order as long as the information relates to the responsibilities of the portfolio. Indeed, there is a public interest in governments having robust and authoritative information on the performance of taxpayer funded policies and programmes.

Electorate briefing requests can vary considerably depending on portfolio responsibilities, the priorities of Ministers, and the availability of robust data. In broad terms, briefing material that provides data about the effect of Government programmes or policies on particular electorates can be prepared in response to particular requests (‘on demand’ briefs) or as part of a routine reporting procedure (‘standardised’ briefs).

Agencies should respond positively where Ministerial offices seek ‘on demand’ briefing materials and speeches tailored to a specific electorate in relation to their engagement in particular functions or activities, so long as the collation of electorate-specific data is consistent with prudent management of agency resources. Speeches and speaking notes should be prepared on the assumption that the Minister’s office will incorporate political commentary. Speeches should not be prepared for Ministers during the caretaker period.

Similar ‘on demand’ requests from Government backbenchers should also be met where the backbencher is representing the Minister on the task that gave rise to the briefing request, or the information is readily available to any Member of Parliament. Provision of electorate briefing material directly to Government backbenchers would otherwise generally not be appropriate. Any requests for briefing by backbenchers should be made through the relevant Minister’s office.

Good practice can be advising employees to distinguish between providing information by electorate to the Minister (which may be appropriate), and providing information directly to Government backbenchers (which is generally not appropriate).

Where briefing is being prepared on an electorate basis, it is good practice to use community-wide standards of statistical reliability and privacy, and a timescale relevant to the services delivered.

If a Minister is travelling to an electorate they may be asked questions on a wide range of government policy issues. Some of these may be issues in which they have been involved as a member of Cabinet or current hot issues, so they may have a good general understanding of the particular topic. Other topics may involve more detailed decisions, for example, infrastructure funding, or sensitive issues in a particular electorate. Briefing is often requested to ensure that the Minister is able to handle such issues accurately.

The general practice is that departments contact one another for briefing or facts and then add this information to the package of material provided for the visit. The degree of assistance will reflect the size of the request and the availability of the information (generally it is off -the-shelf material).The case of briefings for overseas travel or meetings is similar (for example, for travel by the Prime Minister material may be sought from a range of public service agencies). However, again there are limits. If a department has a concern about a request that could not be resolved directly, it should be clarified through Ministers’ offices.

2.2.5 Supporting Cabinet processes

The Cabinet Handbook38 lays down the principles and conventions by which the Cabinet system operates, and clarifies the distinction between submissions (in which Ministers take their policy proposals to Cabinet) and memoranda (which are prepared by department officers, generally in response to a request by the Prime Minister or Cabinet for information). Submissions seek decisions on the Minister’s recommendations; memoranda present the conclusions departments and agencies in a Minister’s portfolio are seeking to convey, conclusions that may form the basis for a Cabinet decision.

Further detail is available in a drafters guide for the preparation of Cabinet submissions and memoranda available from the Cabinet Liaison Officer in each department.

A number of the principles already articulated in this guide apply to the involvement of APS employees in the preparation and handling of Cabinet documentation. Though confidentiality is important in all interactions with Government, particular caution should be exercised around the preparation of Cabinet material and Cabinet deliberations. All Cabinet documents are security classified at least at the confidential level and special handling requirements are mandatory. The Cabinet Handbook lays out guidance on the safe storage and circulation of Cabinet documents and makes it clear that access is on a strict ‘need-to-know’ basis.

Because a submission contains the Minister’s proposals, it is critical that public servants involved in the policy development and drafting stage closely consult with the Minister and his or her office. It is important to bear in mind throughout the process that, though advisers have a very good appreciation of the Minister’s requirements and views, they do not themselves have power to give directions and agencies need to take steps to ensure that they are reflecting the Minister’s directions.

Submissions prepared by agencies working alone or collaboratively through interdepartmental committees are generally consensus-based and drafted to reflect the views of the Ministers concerned. Where Cabinet Ministers bring submissions jointly and disagree, this will be reflected through Ministerial comments in the submission identifying those recommendations on which agreement has not been reached.

Submissions that have been prepared by task forces (rather than inter-departmental committees) do not rely on consensus-based decision-making, often addressing whole of government issues where complex matters have been forced to decision. Usually, the head of the task force accepts responsibility for drafting the decisions and/or recommendations of the submission on behalf of the Minister responsible for the lead agency.39

Unlike submissions, Cabinet memoranda are departmental documents, and should not be seen as necessarily binding portfolio Ministers or reflecting their views, although they are still taken to Cabinet by Ministers. This means that, while close consultation with the Minister and/or the Minister’s office will still be required, the findings and conclusions will be those of the Department.

Similarly, coordination comments on both submissions and memoranda are recorded as the views of the departments providing them, are intended to add to the information available to the Cabinet in its deliberative processes and should not be seen as binding Ministers or necessarily reflecting their views. The Cabinet Handbook notes that it is for departments to settle with their Ministers the extent to which Ministers may wish to clear their department’s coordination comments or otherwise be drawn into the consultation process. Frequently, Ministers may prefer to reserve their contributions for Cabinet discussion.

2.2.6 Supporting Budget processes

Budget preparation processes can be opaque for new Ministers and their offices. As well, Budget timetables or guidelines can be revamped by governments so that agencies need to review their processes. Nevertheless, some broad principles will continue to apply and agencies should ensure adequate briefing and advice on process is provided to the Ministers and their offices.

The Budget provides the opportunity to identify cross-portfolio priorities and establish how they are to be considered. Ministers should be assisted by the APS to determine the most suitable form of appropriation and, where relevant, governance (decision- making) structure, information sharing arrangements, accounting procedures, reporting mechanisms, and timing and evaluation requirements.40

Agency Budget costings must be identified as either administrative expenses or departmental expenses. Governments generally prefer to see departmental expenses minimised and this can mean that agency heads need to ensure that Ministers and their advisers are fully briefed on the implications for programme administration of the ways in which expenses are identified. New governments also need to be advised that recurrent expenditure authorised by the previous government through legislation means that they are not starting the Budget process with a clean slate.

Budget processes involve extensive consultation and require long timeframes. New Ministers should be advised that if the costs of the initiatives they are proposing are not to be off set against ongoing expenditure, agencies will need to engage in a cooperative process with central agencies, and parallel cooperative processes will be required at the Ministerial level. Such parallel processes involve close cooperation and iterative information sharing between the Minister’s office and the portfolio department.

In the case of new Ministerial offices, there may be value in agencies making training available to advisers who are going to be involved in the Budget process.

Good practice can be ensuring that Ministerial staff understand key features of the Budget process, including the importance of establishing reliable, reasonable timeframes to accommodate any consultation processes the Government wishes to establish. Offices should be engaged in close and iterative processes between senior managers and advisers under the guidance of Ministers and agency heads.

Good practice can be ensuring that Budget costings agreed with the Minister and advisers reflect the form of appropriation that is most appropriately aligned to the budgeted activity.

Good practice can be covering off process arrangements for Budget preparation in incoming government briefs and in training provided by the agency for new advisers.

2.2.7 Record keeping

Record keeping has attracted substantial attention in recent years, both in general reports such as those by the Australian National Audit Office and the Australian Public Service Commission, and in the context of specific cases of concern such as the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Services case, A Certain Maritime Incident and the Palmer inquiry. In part, this increased attention arises because record keeping in the APS has been affected by greater public scrutiny through administrative law reform and parliamentary oversight over the past few decades, but it is also due to the greater emphasis on achieving results.

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Accountable

Good recordkeeping is also essential to accountability. All significant decisions or actions need to be documented to a standard that would withstand independent scrutiny. Proper recordkeeping allows others to understand the reasons why a decision was made or an action taken and can guide future decision-makers.

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Recordkeeping

Over the past few decades, recordkeeping in the APS has been influenced by an increase in public scrutiny through administrative law reform and parliamentary oversight, and increased emphasis on achieving results. Technology has also had a major impact on recordkeeping practices.

Although there has been an increase in the transparency of recordkeeping, a number of organisations have raised concern about the quality of recordkeeping:

  • the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in its report Recordkeeping (No. 45 of 2001–02) which can be found on the ANAO’s website at: Audit Report—Recordkeeping
  • the Australian Law Reform Commission in its 1998 review of the Archives Act
  • parliamentary committees, including the 2002 Report of the Inquiry into A Certain Maritime Incident.

The Auditor-General acknowledges the need for good judgement in his report on Magnetic Resonance Imaging Services (Audit Report No. 42 (1999–2000)):

The level and standard of documentation considered necessary to support an administrative process is always a matter of judgement for management as part of an organisation’s control environment. Nevertheless documentation is important for an agency to:

  • demonstrate it has taken all reasonable steps to identify and manage risks
  • provide assurance to management that the administrative processes are adequate and have integrity
  • record significant events and decisions
  • be able to review its decisions and processes thereby identifying strengths and weaknesses in the process, drawing out lessons for the future
    • in some circumstances provide support for the Commonwealth’s position in the event of a legal challenge
    • meet accountability obligations to the Government, Parliament and other stakeholders.

The level and standard of documentation needs to match the circumstances. However, it would be expected that both the level and standard of documentation would increase as the consequences of decisions and actions increases.

While it is not necessary to record every meeting, prepare file notes of every conversation or retain all emails, it is important to record and to maintain in an accessible form:

  • significant decisions by Ministers, and the basis for them including advice on options and risks
  • programme decisions, including decisions affecting individuals or individual businesses that may be subject to administrative review, together with the basis for the decisions and the authority for making the decision
  • significant events, including meetings and discussions with Ministers or stakeholders or members of the public which may be significant in terms of policy or programme decision-making.

The National Archives of Australia advises41 that records (whether the format is paper or electronic) should be created and kept to:

  • provide evidence of business activity, as individuals are accountable to managers in their organisation, other organisations or to the public
  • satisfy regulatory requirements such as legal and audit requirements
  • support effective decision-making, so that information is available to make an informed decision
  • provide a record of the past—historical value
  • help with individual communication needs because records enable individuals to share information with others.

In the above reports, the Auditor-General also made the following point about the discipline required to keep records when time and resources are constrained:

Often it is considered that maintaining paper or electronic records is too burdensome. This is especially so in an environment where there are time and resource constraints. However, such considerations may be substantially lessened bya soundly based corporate governance framework that is set up to deal with such demands. Perversely, it is such a constrained environment that often requires adequate documentation for accountability purposes. In this context, sound public administration requires key deliberations, decisions and resolutions to be recorded.

The pace of modern business has increased the use of personal diaries to record discussions, and remind the employee about events or tasks to be performed. These diaries should not replace records that should be accessible to others. Employees using diaries should consider, on a regular basis, whether decisions or discussions that are recorded are significant enough to warrant a file note. It is also good practice to draft a file note after a significant meeting, which may need to be endorsed by others who were present.

While it is important to maintain a focus on accuracy, judgements need to be made about the level of detail and the style and presentation of documents. APS employees should consider the need to be professional and responsive (providing ‘frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice’). When preparing records employees should ensure the record accurately refl ects the advice given, any decision taken and the authority for the decision.

Technology has impacted on recordkeeping practices, including difficulties in linking electronic and paper records, and the pressure for fast communications and timely decisions. Yet technology also offers opportunities for more efficient, reliable and accessible recordkeeping, as demonstrated by online information provision and e-based decision-making in many larger organisations. In 1995 the National Archives of Australia issued a policy under the Archives Act that electronic records have the same status as paper records. The policy states that:

All digital data created or received in the conduct of Commonwealth business are Commonwealth records under the Archives Act 1983 and need to be managedin accordance with the Act. Commonwealth Government agencies mustmanage electronic records with the same care as they manage paper records. Agencies must not dispose of electronic records except under an appropriate disposal authority issued by the National Archives of Australia.

The policy also covers emails:

Email is part of the official business communication of a Commonwealth agency. Email sent or received contains information about business activities and therefore can function as evidence of business transactions which are part of the official records of an agency. All email messages created using Commonwealth government systems are Commonwealth records and must be managed in accordance with the Archives Act 1983.

To assist agencies to systematically manage records, in March 2000 the National Archives released an extensive range of recordkeeping standards, policies, tools and guidelines for the Commonwealth. This is available on the Archives’ Internet site at National Archives of Australia—Commonwealth Recordkeeping.

Keeping good records is essential to accountability. The suggestions, decisions and recommendations made in the course of interacting with Ministers’ offices can be amongst the most important information that an agency works with. An equally important reason to keep good records is to ensure that Ministers’ wishes are faithfully understood, communicated and acted on. More broadly, the purpose of good records is to accurately guide agencies’ activities. Against this background, the Palmer report has recommended that executive management should be personally accountable for ensuring that sound file management practices are followed (Recommendation 5.1).42

Good practice could include ensuring that executive management makes itself personally accountable for ensuring that sound file management practices are followed.

The Freedom of Information Act 1982, allows the public access to most government- held documents. While the possibility of public access may properly influence how some communications are recorded, it is important to resist pressure to avoid making records where they would indeed clarify the decision-making process and accountability.

Agencies may refer freedom of information requests to legal staff or provide legal advice to employees handling such requests. Some agencies have identified types of information that may be disclosed through less formal means than requests. The Freedom of Information Act requires most government agencies to publish information about the manuals and other documents they use to make decisions or recommendations that affect the public.

This guide does not deal with public access to information through the Freedom of Information Act, or with record keeping processes in general; the Australian Public Service Commission encourages agencies to refer to the Archives’ work43 (see the resources section at the end of this guide). However, consultations conducted as part of the evaluation identified some useful good practices in relation to record keeping in interactions with Ministers’ offices.

Most agencies find that a great deal of interaction with Ministers’ offices is by telephone or email; and most is with Ministerial staff rather than with Ministers themselves. Compared to agencies, Ministers’ offices are small, and often one adviser has responsibility for a substantial policy area. In contrast, there can be many people in an agency who will help respond to a request from a Minister’s office. Since many of those requests originate in conversations and emails, it is important that records of these are kept on files, so that all employees working with the file are working from the same information. This is important to avoid misunderstandings that can damage the relationship.

Participants in the evaluation undertaken by the Australian Public Service Commission were concerned that the increasing use of email could make decision processes harder to track. They also noted that the increasing use of the telephone was making record keeping more difficult. On the positive side, emails could often be copied to several people, increasing the extent to which records could be kept.

Records need not be extensive: the Australian National Audit Office’s audit reports on Recordkeeping44 and the Australian Public Service Commission do not suggest that every meeting be recorded, or file notes prepared on every phone call, or every email be retained (although employees should be aware that any email, and not just those that have been formally put on the record, can be the subject of a freedom of information request). As the audit report on Magnetic Resonance Imaging Services indicates:

On key issues, and where sufficient time is available, it is good practice for departments to use written briefings to provide assurance that the issues and options are clearly presented to the Minister and that any decisions taken by the Minister are understood and recorded … In addition, it is also good practice for departments to maintain a record of oral briefing of significant issues and any resulting discussions and decisions. Briefings and records maintained need not be lengthy, but should be fit for their purpose.45

Good practice can be having a written agency policy that significant contact by employees with Ministers’ office staff, whether face-to-face or by phone, is recorded in a file note. Similarly, emails should be retained in the agency’s record keeping system.

Whether or not written records exist, agency policies, procedures and written protocols should make it clear that the leaking of confidential material by public servants is not acceptable.

It is always possible to cite worthy intentions by individuals who leak, and give examples of the cases where poor decisions have been exposed by leaks, noting the public interest then served by the subsequent corrective action. Leaving aside the deceit involved in leaking, the downside, even in cases of worthy intentions and poor decisions, is considerable. Inevitably, the consequent lack of trust constrains relationships, reduces departmental influence and the range of experience and expertise that goes with it, and limits the range of perspectives that can be brought to bear.

2.2.8 Responding to questions on notice and appearing before parliamentary committees

Responding to parliamentary questions on notice and to questioning before parliamentary committees is a responsibility that falls to significant numbers of senior APS employees. The 2003–04 State of the Service report found that of the 73% of Senior Executive Service employees who had had direct contact with Ministers’ offices in the preceding year, 68% had been involved in Parliament-related functions.

Responses to questions on notice are Ministerial and not departmental. Draft responses should be prepared and provided to the Minister.

Public servants are regularly called upon to provide information directly to the Parliament by appearing before committees. Guidance on appearing before parliamentary committees is available in the Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website.46

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APS employees have a role to assist Ministers to fulfil their accountability obligations to Parliament and the public. This may include briefing Ministers, preparing for parliamentary debates, drafting answers to parliamentary questions or drafting letters in response to Members and Senators.

Although the legislature cannot direct the APS in its day-to-day work, it is the responsibility of Parliament to scrutinise the activities of government and to examine the expenditure of public money. APS employees may be required to provide information directly to the Parliament, in particular to its Committees.

Public servants assist Ministers to fulfil their accountability obligations by providing Parliament with full and accurate information about the factual and technical background to policies and their administration. This may include reasons for the policy, but not comment on policy.47 The Senate resolutions provide that:

an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy, and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a Minister.

APS employees must be honest and professional. Answers to questions from Parliament or its Committees must always be accurate and any inadvertent errors corrected quickly. APS employees must never mislead the Parliament. If necessary, they should consult the Minister before answering Committee questions and should not refuse to answer questions allowed by the Committee chair, unless directed by the Minister. They should help explain government policies and decisions, although they are not obliged to reveal policy advice given. Where questions from a Committee are likely to be politically sensitive, they should discuss the matter beforehand with the Minister or the Minister’s office. APS employees should always look to maintain the trust of both Ministers and the Parliament in their professionalism.

Further guidance on appearing before parliamentary committees is available in the Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters (November 1989) available from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website.

This guide also includes advice about providing information to individual Members of Parliament. Unless there are legislative provisions that apply, arrangements for this should be settled by the Minister and Agency Head.

The key principle applying to these interactions is the need to maintain the confidence of both the Minister and the Parliament. APS employees are required by the Parliament to provide full and accurate information about the factual and technical background to policies and their administration. This may include reasons for the policy, but not comment on policy.

Most APS employees liable to appear before the Parliament know when they are likely to be asked sensitive questions, and when full and accurate information on the facts may be politically embarrassing. They should be aware that they are not expected to volunteer information, and need to forewarn Ministers where information that would have to be provided could be politically contentious. Public servants are required, when asked, to explain the reasons for and implications of policy and would be expected to do so in a way that avoids undermining the policy objectives. But they must not mislead, or actively avoid answers or cross the line to sell policy rather than explain it.

When public servants take questions on notice, they should prepare written responses as if they were a continuation of the evidence given and follow the same guidelines as for oral evidence. The responses should not, for example, discuss the merits or otherwise of policy. Despite the difference in nature between responses of this kind and questions on notice to Ministers, it is accepted practice that draft responses to questions taken on notice by public servants appearing before committees are cleared by the relevant Minister.

It should be a key aim of agencies to ensure that employees who are likely to be required to appear before committees are well equipped to respond in a manner that is consistent with their rights and responsibilities. The most common measures used by agencies to equip their Senior Executive Service employees appearing before parliamentary committees have been learning through attendance and observation, internal briefing of staff prior to attendance and self-nominating attendance at training courses or presentations.

Thirty per cent of agencies with Senior Executive Service employees appearing before parliamentary committees indicated in the survey conducted for the 2003–04 State of the Service report that they had written internal guidelines applying to such appearances.

Good practice can be having written agency protocols or other guidance to assist Senior Executive Service employees appearing before parliamentary committees to respond in a manner that is consistent with their rights and responsibilities.

2.2.9 Assistance with media issues and public presentations by public servants

Agencies are likely to receive requests for material for the media or for checks on material prepared in Ministers’ offices. Examples of such requests are: draft press releases, letters to the editor, ‘opinion editorial’ pieces or articles, and draft interview answers. These will explain policy, provide information or correct factual errors.

Public servants should respond to such requests, but should, as always, avoid any contribution of a party political nature. They should ensure that facts are accurate, and any political comments can be added in the offices.

Where employees have any concerns that the information they have provided has been presented inaccurately, this should be conveyed to senior managers. Senior managers in their turn have a responsibility to keep employees in touch with any steps that have been taken to address their concerns.

Ministers will on occasions require public servants to assist with media presentations on technical matters. If asked, public servants should explain the reasons for and implications of government policy, but should avoid advocacy which is the role of the Minister.

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Apolitical, impartial and professional

APS employees have an important role to explain policies and analyse the reasons behind them, to assist the elected government to achieve its policy aims and helpmeet programme objectives. This can involve speaking at public forums and engaging external stakeholders. APS employees need to do this professionally, and avoid partisan comment. Their approach to speaking publicly about policies needs to support public confidence in the ongoing capacity of the APS to be impartial.

Agencies have found it useful to have in place procedures, agreed with Ministers, to handle media enquiries and make public statements.

Good practice can be having guidelines for dealing with media inquiries that clearly outline how the agency will handle them, and the relationship between agency and Minister’s office in these cases. One department’s media policy (at Appendix 3.8), for example, begins by outlining the basic arrangements:

The Minister’s office has issued strict procedures for dealing with the media.

The first rule is DON’T—unless you have first been through the formal clearance process.

Any political inquiry, policy announcement or sensitive issue should be handled in every case by the Minister’s office.

For background on programmes or policies, the Minister’s office may clear an SES officer to give a media interview or provide a background briefing.

The policy goes on to delineate clearance processes and a role for the agency’s public affairs area in all cases.

Where Government backbenchers are asked by the Minister to represent them personally—by making a presentation on behalf of the Minister or by receiving a delegation on behalf of a Minister, for example—they may request the assistance of agencies through the Minister’s office. It is not appropriate for backbenchers to approach agencies directly for assistance.

The Australian Government Information Management Office’s Guidance on Departmental and Ministerial Websites provides guidance on the placement of Ministerial media releases and speeches, indicating that these are in most circumstances placed on Ministerial sites only. Many agencies provide interested visitors to their website with links to the Ministerial site where they can access any press releases (see Guidance on Caretaker Conventions (July 2004) for information on websites during the caretaker period).


30 Contact information for this service is available at the back of this publication.

31 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Guidance on Caretaker Conventions, July 2004, <http://www.pmc.gov.au/guidelines/index.cfm>

32 Australian National Audit office, Managing Parliamentary Workflow, Better Practice Guide, April 2003, pp. 34, 35, <http://www.anao.gov.au>

33 Section 6(2).

34 Other useful references include: The Delegated Authority Handbook (1994) issued by MAB–MIAC, which explores issues related to delegation, and Legal Issues: A Guide for Policy Development and Administration (1994) (MAB–MIAC); Legal Practice Briefing No. 24—Devolution of Power within Government (1996), issued by the Australian Government Solicitor, which examines the nature of powers of delegation and authority, and sets out the relevant principles. This brief also discusses the effects a change of government has on instruments of delegation. Also of interest is Legal Practice Briefing No. 43—After a General Election: Some Legal Issues, which deals with this issue. Legal Practice Briefings can be obtained from the Australian Government Solicitor’s website at: <http://www.ags.gov.au>

35 Australian National Audit office, Administration of Grants, Better Practice Guide, May 2002, p. 23, para. 2.64, <http://www.anao.gov.au>

36 <http://www.finance.gov.au>

37 See Chapter 6 of the Cabinet Handbook, 5th edn, March 2004, <http://www.pmc.gov.au/guidelines/index.cfm>

38 <http://www.pmc.gov.au/guidelines/index.cfm>

39 Management Advisory Committee, Connecting Government: Whole of Government Responses to Australia’s Priority Challenges, Chapter 2, ‘Structures and Processes’, pp. 19–43, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2004.

40 Broad good practice guidance is available from the Connected Government website

41 National Archives of Australia, E-permanence: The New Standard in Recordkeeping for Training for Commonwealth Record-keepers, National Archives of Australia, Canberra, 2000.

42 M.J. Palmer, Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau: Report, July 2005, p. xxiv, <http://www.minister.immi.gov.au>

43 The National Archives of Australia has provided advice for all APS employees on good record keeping. This is available at: <http://www.naa.gov.au>

44 See Australian National Audit office, Recordkeeping, (Assurance and Control Assessment Audit), Audit Report No. 45, May 2002, <http://www.anao.gov.au>; Recordkeeping in Large Commonwealth Organisations, (Business Support Process Audit), Audit Report No. 7, September 2003, <http://www.anao.gov.au>

45 Australian National Audit office, Magnetic Resonance Imaging Services—Effectiveness and Probity of the Policy Development Processes and Implementation, Performance Audit Report No. 42, May 2000, <http://www.anao.gov.au>

46 Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters (November 1989) is available on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website at:<http://www.pmc.gov.au/guidelines/index.cfm>

47 Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters (November 1989) is available on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website at: <http://www.pmc.gov.au/guidelines/index.cfm>


Part three: Promoting effective relationships

The 2003–04 State of the Service report found that ‘substantial proportions of relevant employees (i.e. those who have had direct contact with Ministers and/or their advisers in the past year) were unsure of whether their agency had specified protocols in place to guide employees’ interactions with Ministers’ offices.48 Agencies expecting that APS employees will adhere to their policies and procedures, will need to ensure that these are effectively promoted amongst their employees, and provide further staff training and development. In many cases, agencies will also find that it is effective to document these policies and procedures as agency-specific protocols.

3.1 Good practice documentation

Clear protocols on policies and procedures support a close relationship of trust and mutual respect between senior managers and Ministers and their advisers. Better documentation is a first step toward greater employee awareness of the application of the APS Values and increased familiarity among Ministerial staff with the obligations applying to the actions of public servants. This in turn is associated with greater confidence in balancing the APS Values. The 2003–04 State of the Service report found that ‘one of the main reasons for the high levels of uncertainty about agency protocols is the lack of documentation, making it difficult for employees to access relevant information.’49

Documenting policies is not about writing everything down. Indeed, this can be counterproductive, weighing down the relationship in process. It can also be difficult to spell out the nuances of more sensitive examples. It is about documenting key principles realistically, concisely, in ways that assist employees to apply them, with relevant examples to make them meaningful. It is also about accessibility, so that APS employees can find them when they are needed.

The document or guide also needs to be owned by an area to maintain it. This area can then be the champion of the broader objectives of the agency’s protocols, a network contact point, trainer, and expert for quick on-the-spot advice. Such an arrangement gives life, flexibility and additional usefulness to black letter documentation. In most agencies this custodian is likely to be the Ministerial liaison area.

Good practice can be documenting important principles and policies related to interactions with Ministers’ offices and preparing written agency protocols for employees in sensitive situations and in situations that arise infrequently.

Good practice can be ensuring that all employees likely to come into contact with Ministers or their advisers are familiar with these documents and where they can be found.

Good practice can be designating an area such as a Ministerial liaison group to be the champion of the broader objectives of the principles, policies and agency protocols governing interactions with Ministers and their advisers. This includes, but is not limited to, the provision of training and expert advice. It also means being strategic about keeping the relationship animated and productive.

3.2 Good practice in training, development and briefings

Documented agency guidance will be no help to APS employees if they are not aware of it. The 2002–03 State of the Service report concluded that ‘policies or protocols for interactions with Ministers and their offices need to be better promulgated amongst employees, particularly given the large numbers who do in fact deal with the offices’.50

A strong message that came out of the Australian Public Service Commission’s evaluation is that there needs to be greater attention to orientation, training and development of employees that will enhance their capacity to serve Ministers effectively and consistent with the APS Values. Even where guidance is documented, the evaluation underpinning this guide suggests that relatively little information is actually incorporated in training or orientation material. This kind of knowledge tends to be assumed, particularly for employees above the APS levels 1–6.

In reality, however, each agency often has its own procedures and policies, different workflow management systems, and a different statutory operating environment. Furthermore, an increasing number of employees are being recruited from outside the APS, and it is not at all unusual for a person’s first job in the APS to be as an Executive Level 1 or 2 or at the Senior Executive Service level (one in four of the Senior Executive Service are engaged from outside the APS). Training in general principles and agency-specific arrangements around interacting with Ministers and their advisers should begin as soon as possible after employees arrive at the agency.

Good practice can be an agency requirement that induction processes at all levels provide explicit guidance on relations with Ministers’ offices. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, for example, addresses all inductees in that department on the relationship between the Department and the Prime Minister’s Office. Information may be integrated into induction seminars and orientation, or it may be communicated by experienced staff acting as mentors to new arrivals. The provision of such information should include, but not be limited to, written material.

The Australian Public Service Commission is introducing orientation programmes for newly engaged and newly promoted Executive Level and Senior Executive Service employees as part of its response to the Integrated Leadership Strategy.51 These are being designed to complement agency-specific activity, and include some guidance on working with both Ministers and the Parliament. The Commission intends to develop a training programme to support this good practice guide for existing employees. The aim of this training is to provide broad principles and to enable agencies to tailor the principles-based training to suit their own agency-specific guidance.

Questions for agency leadership and human resource managers to consider include:

  • Are new employees at more senior levels (APS 6 upwards) getting appropriate induction when they join your agency?
  • What are the key messages you want to get across in induction regarding interactions with Ministers’ offices?
  • Are these messages embedded in the existing induction programme? If not, how will you introduce them? If the induction programme is crowded with material, is there other less important material that needs to be moved out into other forums?
  • Is clear direction provided to new employees about the means of accessing more detailed guidance?

More generally, relations with Ministers and their offices are likely to be managed better, consistent with the APS Values and Code of Conduct and any agency policies and practices, if there is a culture of open discussion within the agency that can shape the approach employees take in particular situations, and give confidence that they will exercise good judgement consistent with the APS Values. A strong leadership role must be played by senior managers in this respect. Engagement with the Minister and advisers on these issues is also highly desirable.

It can be good practice for managers to create opportunities for mentoring and one- to-one training that canvasses relations with Ministers and working closely with the Minister’s office.

Questions for agency leadership to consider include:

  • What mentoring and planned one-to-one training or development frameworks are in place in your agency?
  • Is mentoring in your agency available for employees who deal with Ministers’ offices, and those who in their next job might be dealing with Ministers’ offices?
  • Have you considered preparing resources that bring together managers’ experiences in dealing with Ministers’ offices for use in mentoring and one-to-one training by managers across your agency?

Gaining first-hand experience of agencies’ dealings with Ministers’ offices can be an important way in which employees both develop good relationships with the office, and learn about balancing the APS Values in these interactions. Participants in the evaluation underpinning this guide told us that consideration should be given to more people attending meetings with Ministers.

Good practice can be encouraging senior managers to take relevant line employees to meetings with Ministers and/or their advisers, provided this is agreed with the Minister’s office.

Good practice can be considering a short rotation for graduate trainees or other junior employees with strong potential, assisting an experienced Departmental Liaison Officer in a Minister’s office.

Feedback is vital to the development of the next generation of public servants. Some feedback comes through the evaluation forms many agencies attach at the end of their briefs, and this is often passed to line areas. Line managers can also learn very useful lessons from experiences such as attending meetings with Ministers and their staff . However, senior managers also have access to a broader range of sources and can draw on those to provide feedback to their staff .

Good practice can be having a feedback form or section at the end of briefs going to Ministers’ offices. Agencies can do two things with the feedback received:

  • They can record and analyse that feedback centrally, so that agencies can develop an overall picture of how often Ministers’ offices are providing feedback and look at trends in that information.
  • Feedback can be transmitted back to all the employees involved in preparation of particular briefs, so they get some idea of how the Minister’s office views their efforts.

In cases where the feedback is negative, managers should ensure this is handled sensitively, with discussions with employees about the reasons for the feedback, and what might be done to improve briefs (and their assessments) in future.

It can be good practice for managers to debrief employees after meetings with the Minister’s office, to give them feedback on material they have prepared for the meeting, possible future directions and priorities, and other relevant matters arising during the course of the meeting itself.

When an agency is introducing new internal policy documents concerning interactions with Ministers’ offices, it can be worthwhile having a communication plan that identifies who needs to receive the message in the documents and how the agency is going to ensure the message reaches its target.

Questions for agency leadership and Ministerial liaison areas to consider include:

  • Does your agency have a communication plan for policies and procedures that support employees in their interactions with Ministers’ offices?
  • How are you getting the message to your employees?
  • What steps has your agency taken to assess whether employees are being informed of relevant policies and procedures?

48 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2003–04, 2004, Chapter 3

49 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2003–04, 2004, p. 38

50 Australian Public Service Commission, State of the Service Report 2002–03, 2003, p. 42

51 ILS webpage


Appendix 1: Managing official information: disclosing and using information

Extract from APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads

Chapter 3—Managing Official Information

Disclosing and using information

There is a legal and regulatory framework that governs the disclosure and use of official information by APS employees and access by the public. Apart from the Public Service Act 1999 (including the Code of Conduct), the framework includes:

  • Crimes Act 1914 (Crimes Act)
  • Criminal Code Act 1995 (Criminal Code)
  • Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act)
  • Archives Act 1983 (Archives Act)
  • Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act)

The legislation can be accessed at the Department of Attorney-General’s website at: http://comlaw.gov.au.

Also included in the legal and regulatory framework is an employee’s common law duty of loyalty and fidelity, which is an implied term in any employment relationship.

At an administrative level, there is the Commonwealth Protective Security Manual 2000 (PSM) which sets out the protective security policy, practices and procedures for the Australian Government. Access to the PSM is currently restricted to Australian Government agencies and their employees.

Disclosing information

Openness is at the core of Australia’s modern system of government. It is essential in a healthy democracy that members of the public have the opportunity to contribute to policy development and decision-making, and that there is public scrutiny and accountability of Government. Public access to information in the possession of Government agencies helps to make this possible.

But there are some circumstances where there is an overriding public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of information held by government. Governments are required to strike a balance between the public interest in having access to information and the public interest in ensuring the effective and proper conduct of government. Disclosing information inappropriately is against the public interest for a variety of reasons. At its most serious, leaking information can damage Australia’s international security or reputation and in extreme circumstances put the lives of Australian officials and others at risk. Inappropriate disclosures may also damage the relationship of trust between the government of the day and its public service advisers. This may reduce the willingness of the government of the day to seek the advice of the public service. Among other things, this would reduce the capacity of the public service to have its views and experience taken into account in the policy development process.

Dealing with Ministers or Ministers’ offices

APS employees who deal with Ministers or with Ministers’ offices may access particularly sensitive information. They must treat any dealings with appropriate confidentiality (s. 13(6) PS Act).

Complying with all applicable Australian Laws, including common law

When acting in the course of APS employment, APS employees must comply with all applicable Australian laws, including any law of a State or Territory (s. 13(4) of the Public Service Act 1999). As the common law is part of the law of States and Territories, APS employees who breach their common law duty of loyalty and fidelity to their employer may also breach the APS Code of Conduct.

The common law duty of loyalty and fidelity is applicable to restrictions on disclosure of information in particular circumstances; for example, where an agency has classified information with a security classification (national or non- national) in order to protect the legitimate ends and interests of government, disclosure may be a breach of the common law duty of loyalty and fidelity. Even in relation to unclassified information, the duty of loyalty and fidelity can be relevant. For example, if an APS employee disclosed information in accordance with a personal view and in defiance of agency policy, the employee may have breached the common law duty of loyalty and fidelity. If an employee who has been told or directed not to disclose particular information disobeys such a direction, the employee may breach subsection 13(5) of the PS Act as well as their common law duty of loyalty and fidelity.

Appendix 2: Portfolio Ministers’ entitlements— financial arrangements — Department of Finance and Administration

Portfolio Ministers are provided with a range of entitlements, with the costs of these being shared between a number of agencies.

This document provides a list of those items defined under the entitlements framework that can be met by the Department of Finance and Administration (Finance). Any costs that are incurred that fall outside this list will not be met by Finance (Ministerial and Parliamentary Services).

Finance is responsible for the following costs of services for Portfolio Ministers:

  • Payment of the Ministerial salary component (the Minister’s base salary component is met by the relevant chamber department)
  • Payment of Travelling Allowance
  • The cost of all travel within Australia (except official car transport costs) by Ministers and their staff, spouse, nominee and dependent children (limited)
  • The cost of a private plated vehicle in the Minister’s electorate
  • The cost of the Minister’s official overseas travel, including the travel costs for personal staff, spouse and official, non-portfolio, related Australian Government hospitality of a reciprocal nature consistent with the reasonable cultural requirements of the country (limited). The dollar limit may be extended with prior permission from the Special Minister of State
  • Electorate office accommodation and office requisites and/or stationery for the Minister and electorate staff, as provided for all Senators and Members
  • Additional Ministerial office accommodation—either in the capital city of the Minister’s home state or their electorate (approved by the Special Minister of State)
  • The Minister’s Communications Allowance as a Senator or Member
  • Management of office accommodation in the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House, including parking in the Ministerial Wing basement car park
  • The supply of executive furniture for the Minister and a range of standard furniture, to Australian Government OH&S standards, for staff in the Ministerial Wing
  • The supply of amenities such as refrigerator, microwave and other equipment such as televisions, necessary for the function of Ministerial offices in the Ministerial Wing
  • Authorisation of the removal of any furniture or equipment from the Ministerial Wing (Note: this applies even if the furniture or equipment is a portfolio department asset)
  • Payment of salaries and allowances for Ministerial staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff ) Act 1984
  • Computer training and other training for electorate staff of the Minister
  • The provision and maintenance of the ‘Ministerial Communications Network’.

The Minister’s Portfolio Department is responsible for meeting the following costs:

  • The costs of official cars for the Minister and his or her spouse, including any private plated vehicle in Canberra
  • Additional or alternative furniture or equipment requested by the Minister (including additional computer and facsimile equipment) for the Minister’s offices both in the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House and the Minister’s home state or territory
  • Repairs and maintenance to departmental furniture and equipment in the Ministerial Wing of Parliament House
  • Salary, travel and other costs of Departmental Liaison Officers
  • Stationery and office requisites for the Minister’s Parliament House office, Ministerial office in a capital city, and/or the Minister’s joint Ministerial/electorate office
  • Business cards for the Minister and his/her staff
  • Relief arrangements for personal staff of the Minister, where the period of the staff absence is less than 12 weeks
  • Postage for use in relation to Ministerial duties
  • The costs of official residential telephone, dedicated data line and facsimile services and telephone charge cards for the Minister
  • Portfolio related business hospitality
  • Any additional security requirements beyond that provided by the Protective Security Coordination Centre when overseas
  • Official hospitality within Australia (including when a staff member of the Minister represents the Minister)
  • Overseas travel costs associated with portfolio related hospitality and portfolio business (please seek further detailed advice from Finance)
  • Laptop computers and a mobile telephone for the Minister, and staff of the Minister nominated by the Minister
  • Membership fees of business organisations related to portfolio or Ministerial functional responsibilities
  • The provision of semi-official residential telephone services and telephone charge cards for senior staff of the Minister nominated by the Minister
  • Payment of conference and training fees for personal staff, as well as any membership of airline lounges.

The Minister’s chamber department is responsible for meeting the costs of the following:

  • Payment of the Minister’s base salary, and electorate allowance
  • The issue of facilities and equipment in the Ministerial suite in Parliament House, including telephones, two computers linked to the Parliament House network and a facsimile machine.

The Protective Security Coordination Centre, Attorney-General’s Department, is responsible for the costs of the following services to Portfolio Ministers:

  • Personal security, residential security and security of personnel in offices outside Parliament House
  • Overseas security costs.

The Ceremonial and Hospitality Branch of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is responsible for meeting the cost of:

  • The supply of official gifts for presentations, currently through Beaver Galleries, Deakin ACT. The Branch oversees all aspects of the official gifts service.

Appendix 3: Examples of good practice agency protocols

Notes:

The original formats of some examples have been modified for inclusion in this publication.

The content of the examples provided to the Australian Public Service Commission is unaltered except for the removal of specific contact details and references to agency Intranet sites or operating systems.

While the examples attributed to agencies were current prior to publication, there may have been subsequent changes or revision.

3.1 General principles for the preparation of high quality advice to Ministers—Department of Transport and Regional Services

These guidelines outline general principles for preparing high quality advice to the portfolio Ministers. They should be read as a preamble to any specific requirements in the Guidelines for Ministerial Responses that are available on [agency Intranet site] for the Processing of Ministerial Papers.

These guidelines should also be read in conjunction with the departmental standards and performance measures outlined in the Portfolio Budget Statement.

Presenting good advice to Ministers

Ministers and their offices are faced with information overload. Good written communications provide the maximum of useful information for the minimum investment of readers’ time and attention. Advice therefore needs to be as short as possible, consistent with adequate coverage of the issues. A general rule of two pages is applied by Ministers and would accommodate most subjects. Where additional information is considered important, it should be contained in attachments but if the extra information is essential for the decision-making process, it should be included in the minute.

The structure of advice should be such that at every stage readers can understand:

  • why they need to read the material before them
  • the relative priority of the material compared to other issues
  • what form of response it seeks.

Briefs and other advice must be addressed to the relevant Minister, not the Ministerial advisers.

It is important to use ‘plain English’ style and to avoid jargon or unnecessary technical language wherever possible. Slang should be avoided, as it undermines the integrity of a document and can be misinterpreted. Short sentences and paragraphs, minimum use of adjectives, and precise grammar all assist the reader.

Important principles

Be timely:

SES officers must ensure that Ministers and their staff are alerted to significant issues in a timely manner. The timing of this advice will be a question of judgement but it is better to err on the side of providing the alert.

Provide well-supported options:

Departmental advice to a Minister is effective when it presents the Minister with:

  • clear decisions to make or actions to be taken
  • the best available understanding of the substantive effect of those decisions or actions
  • a full understanding of the range of realistic options for decision or action
  • sufficient background and contextual information to provide a sound basis for the decisions or support for actions
  • concise and unambiguous analysis and recommendations.

Make clear in your advice:

  • how comprehensive the information is
  • the basis of the judgements expressed
  • the basis and weighting of recommendations between possible options
  • the personal responsibility of the signing officer for the recommendations
  • the implications of the advice for the Ministers’ legislative responsibilities, particularly in complex matters.
Provide relevant background information:52

The background may include any or all of:

  • the relevant history and current status of the issue
  • the policy, technical, legal or cost factors affecting a decision, or its implementation
  • who will be affected, and in what ways
  • who may implement the decision or action, and how.

Formatting the document

Automated word processing offers individual drafters a wide array of type faces and styles. In the context of official correspondence, the selection of type face and style has only two legitimate purposes:

  • maximum readability for the recipient
  • image and credibility of the Ministers and Department.

Style requirements are set out in the AGPS style manual. Ministerial office style guidelines include preferences established with each Minister’s office, and these must be adhered to in correspondence for each office.

All Ministerial documents must be prepared and processed in [agency system]. Word templates are available within [agency system] for all types of documents.

Good layout and structure assist in rapid reading of documents by making the information they contain readily accessible. Useful devices include careful use of:

  • ‘dot-dash’ points
  • headings and indentation
  • the use of vertical lists to present facts and options
  • graphs and tables.

Clearance standards

A Minister must be able to assume that, for any advice received from the Department, the information upon which it is based is authoritative, the most comprehensive available, and the judgements included are consistent with portfolio-wide priorities. It is the responsibility of the signatory to ensure that this is the case.

Where clearance responsibilities are delegated by Executive Directors, officers must be aware of their obligation to ensure drafts have received sufficient clearance both up the line (when senior perspective is required) and across Business Divisions (when there may be implications not obvious to a drafting officer).

Clearance and consultation within the Department, within the portfolio and across the Government as a whole, should be stated in the minute.

Internal clearance

In accordance with SES Guidelines, SES officers are ultimately responsible for advice to Ministers originating from their areas. However, senior officers are at all times responsible for setting the levels of clearance required for particular subject matter in their own area, and for establishing the basis on which it is appropriate for clearance to be sought up the line.

Drafting officers are responsible for ensuring that drafts have been appropriately checked with other Business Divisions to ensure that advice is comprehensive and that all relevant considerations are brought to the attention of the clearing officer. The circular, Guidelines to Staff on Obtaining Legal Services, should always apply when including legal advice.

Financial implications must always be agreed with the Chief Financial officer before advice is sent to Ministers. You should make clear in your advice whether external agencies have been consulted about budgetary impacts.

External coordination

Coordination with portfolio bodies, other departments and external bodies serves three purposes:

  • strengthening the background information used to support the advice we provide to our own Minister
  • identification and reduction of implementation difficulties that might otherwise arise
  • the opportunity to influence positively the advice being put to the Government from other sources.

Some forms of coordination are formal requirements placed upon either the Department (e.g. coordination comment on Cabinet submissions, contributions to joint briefings) or the Minister (e.g. need to consult with the Minister for Finance and Administration, the Prime Minister or the Treasurer).

Where the Minister is required to formally consult, it is the responsibility of the relevant Business Division(s) to ensure that the Minister is provided with all advice necessary for the consultation. As a rule, such advice should include the outcome of prior consultation between this Department and any other department or significant stakeholder in the Minister’s consultation process.

When this Department is approached by another portfolio on a consultation basis, judgement must be exercised as to whether the subject matter warrants bringing it to the attention of the Minister.

In all clearance processes, there should be adherence to the relevant records management guidelines, which are available on [agency Intranet].

The guidelines detail the practices and procedures for the creation and maintenance of departmental records, including vital statutory instruments, in accordance with legislative requirements and best practice. Executive Directors are responsible for the effective management of records within their area, that is, the proper creation, maintenance, storage and disposal of records.

Style, headings and content of minutes

The following guidelines set out a standardised format and series of possible headings for providing briefing to Ministers. They should be read in conjunction with the specific requirements of individual Ministers, which are available on [agency Intranet site]. The templates available in [agency system] also provide the requirements in relation to font, layout, signature block etc for each Minister.

The officer signing the minute is responsible for the style, structure, content and presentation of the advice. It is important to understand the purpose of the advice. If, for example, the minute seeks a decision from the Minister involving complex technical and legal aspects, it should use more of the suggested headings listed below than a simple note conveying background information on a particular matter.

Security classification

The Department has a duty of care to ensure that sensitive or national security material is suitably notated. All papers created for the Minister should have the appropriate security classification as set out in the Quick Guide to Classifying Information, which is available on [agency Intranet site].

Cabinet-in-Confidence documents may be emailed from the Department to agencies connected to the Fedlink secure network. Alternatively they can be sent via the secure Cabinet system. The Cabinet Liaison Officer [contact details] or alternatively the Legislation Liaison Officer [contact details] can advise on the appropriate handling of Cabinet documents and access to a secure fax machine if required.

File and [agency system] Number

Inclusion of the file number in [agency system] ensures proper standards of record keeping and correspondence tracking in the Department. The [agency system] number is automatically generated when a Minute is generated. If documents need to be sent urgently to Ministers, this should be noted in [agency system] as an item delivered directly to the Minister’s office.

Address

Correct format is to address the Minister by his full Ministerial title within the portfolio, for example, Minister for Transport and Regional Services.

Subject

The subject line should contain enough information to narrow the subject down to the area at issue, for example, ‘Scoresby Freeway’ is not as useful a guide to the subject as ‘Scoresby Freeway—Funding Options’.

Action sought

The purpose of the communication is most clearly defined in terms of ACTION SOUGHT from the recipient. For the Minister, this means ‘How I need to respond’. This should be set out in the briefest and clearest terms immediately below the SUBJECT heading. Examples of typical actions sought might be:

ACTION SOUGHT: That you sign the attached papers for Executive Council relating to ... Board appointments
ACTION SOUGHT: That you indicate your preferred approach for the Department to consult with industry on ...

Where there is no specific field for ACTION SOUGHT, include this information under Recommended Action.

Priority

Where appropriate, include in the ‘Black Box’ on the top right hand of the Minute, any critical date. If there is a critical date the ‘Black Box’ should indicate—DEADLINE [include date]. Where there is no critical date the ‘Black Box’ should indicate—NO DEADLINE. Do not simply use the term URGENT.

Whenever there are factors that require the Minister to give priority attention to the ACTION SOUGHT, these should be set out clearly against a heading immediately following the ACTION SOUGHT.

The priority message should indicate a genuine deadline and the consequences of failing to meet that deadline. Failure to insert a deadline where the matter is urgent runs the risk of the paper being overlooked. Examples might be:

PRIORITY/DEADLINE: Clearance of the draft submission by 1 November is needed if the legislation is to meet the timetable for Autumn Session passage.

By this stage, the Minister or his office should have all the information they need to assess the priority of the material that follows and to schedule it for attention.

Key issues

The first sentence to follow this heading should establish the nature and scope of any issue that the Minister is asked to address in responding to the advice. Many issues may not require more than a few words to outline. In such cases you should not pad out the issues with insignificant considerations or unnecessary background. In more complex cases, more space may be needed to describe the issues properly. The more complex the issue, the more care should be taken to ensure that it is communicated as clearly and simply as possible.

This heading is not the place to canvass solutions. It should cover only such information relevant to the reason a Minister now needs to be involved in the subject. This may include identification of conflicting interests that may be affected by a Minister’s decision or action. It should also include reference to any formal powers or obligations under which the Minister would act.

Current situation

This heading covers a concise description of the state of play on the issue. Items could include:

  • reference to the most current statement of relevant Government policy
  • the substance of any current representations from parties involved
  • the state of any legal or administrative processes.

These items should be tightly summarised, with more detailed information available in attachments if necessary. The focus should be on the substance of the matter addressed, rather than just a simple chronology.

Legal and/or technical issues

Significant technical or legal issues may warrant noting under a separate heading. The source and authority of any views included should be made clear. Treatment in the main body of the advice should be limited to conveying such implications as the Minister must understand in order to take the relevant decisions or actions. Once these are outlined, detailed discussion should be set out in attachments. Where the Department’s line of advice to the Minister differs from other opinions quoted, the reasons and authority for taking a different view must be made clear.

Options

Where there is a range of possible options for action, each should be presented with care to ensure that the implications are fully explained.

Options not favoured by the Department should still be presented objectively, particularly if they are being pursued by other parties to the issue. If detailed discussion of complex options is needed, this can be in attachments. The main text should present only the key aspects of each option.

If the range of possible options is very wide, judgement should be exercised in presenting a view of the options that is representative, but does not attempt to include minor variations.

If you cannot reduce the range of options to a maximum of three, this may indicate that there are threshold issues that should be resolved before final action options are proposed to the Minister. In these cases, it may be more effective to advise, and seek decisions, on individual components of the issue at different stages, rather than presenting the Minister with an inordinately complex web of considerations and options in a single paper.

The treatment of each option should summarise clearly any implications concerning:

  • relationship to current policy and practice
  • effects on interested parties
  • process issues, for example,
    • is legislation needed?
    • is formal consultation required?
    • can parties appeal against the decision?
  • budgetary effect
  • precedents or constraints on future options or actions.
Conclusion

This heading should be used in preference to ‘Summary’ (which tends to invite repetition). The text under CONCLUSION should briefly and clearly set out the arguments leading to the recommended course of action.

Recommendations and/or recommended action

Active briefs should contain a thoughtful and self-contained recommendation after analysis of all information.

The recommendations should be consistent with the ACTION SOUGHT where this information is included, as amplified by the OPTIONS and CONCLUSION sections.

Wording of recommendations for Minister’s action should clearly describe specific actions, so that there is no ambiguity as to what the Minister’s signature to the advice means. Recommendations should not rely on other parts of the minute to make sense, that is, they must be self-contained.

A recommendation ‘That you note the above’ is pointless and should not be used. Similarly, formulations such as ‘that you agree to the strategy outlined above’ are to be avoided.

When in doubt, it is better to inform the Ministers than to refrain.

Contact officer

The relevant SES officer for the advice takes full responsibility for all content, but may nominate a contact officer (below the signature to the advice) if the Minister (or office) wants to follow up on matters of detail held by the contact officer. A nominated contact officer must be competent and available to advise the Minister directly on any matter covered in the advice, unless the nomination specifies a particular field of competence

(e.g. legal or technical issues).

Action block

At the end of each minute, there should be a provision for the Minister to acknowledge action on the recommendations. In general terms, this should signal:

APPROVED/NOT APPROVED

AGREED/NOT AGREED/NOTED

SIGNED/NOT SIGNED.

3.2 Minutes to the Minister—The Essentials—Department of Health and Ageing

Minutes to the Minister See also The Essentials on the Intranet.

What is a Minute?

A minute to the Minister is a document initiated in an action area:

  • to inform a Minister about an issue, situation or event
  • to seek a Minister’s approval of a proposal, and/or
  • to seek a Minister’s signature on correspondence initiated within the portfolio.

Critical date

The critical date must be a calendar date and should allow the Minister not less than five working days to consider the minute. If a critical date is five working days or less, a member of the Executive must give a waiver. Refer to The Essentials on the Intranet for an example on working out the ‘five-day rule’.

If a critical date is given, a reason must be stated.

Correct example: ‘To enable gazettal for an implementation date of 30 June 2004’.

Wrong: ‘Urgent’ or ‘ASAP’ are not acceptable.

Timing and urgency

Remember that Ministers are not always available, are always busy and their priority may not be yours. Allowing sufficient time for consideration will be appreciated.

If the timing is less than five working days, you must provide advice about the minute’s urgency to the Minister’s DLO and the relevant adviser and also notify the minutes officer of the person who has been advised.

Templates

  • On the Windows Taskbar, select the templates icon, choose Parliamentary and select Minute to the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary. It will prompt you for information needed.
  • The Essentials on the Intranet site has an example of a completed minute to the Minister.

Length

Keep minutes as short as possible, but

  • provide enough information for the Minister to fully consider the issue
  • provide as attachments (flagged for reference) all documents mentioned in the text, including previous minutes.

Recommendations

Clearly state each action that the Minister needs to take.

  • Begin ‘that you NOTE’, ‘that you SIGN’, ‘that you APPROVE’.
  • Continue with point format R1, R2, R3.
  • Mention all media releases, letters and other attached documents requiring approval and/or signature.

Clearance

Minimum clearance level for minutes is Division Head and/or State Manager, but minutes referring to sensitive or contentious issues may require higher clearance levels. Minutes for [Minister] may be cleared at Assistant Secretary and/or State

Program Manager level. Some divisions may have an alternative clearing arrangement. Check with your business management unit.

  • Minutes must be signed by the person whose details appear as the clearance officer.
  • Consult Portfolio Strategies Division before finalising any minute involving changes to agreed current year outlays or forward estimates of administered or departmental funds.
  • All Budget-in-Confidence minutes must be cleared and co-signed by the First Assistant Secretary, Portfolio Strategies Division or the Assistant Secretary, Budgets before being delivered to Parliamentary Section.
  • Media releases must be cleared through public affairs officers.

Outcomes

It is mandatory to enter an outcome from the list on the second screen of the template.

Completed minutes

Deliver the correct number of copies of the minute and its attachments to the minutes officer, [address].

Copies

Minister [name] ccs required Original + 7 copies + 6 copies of first page of minute
Minister [name] Always cc to [name] Original + 6 copies
Minister [name] Always cc to [name] Original + 5 copies

Minute Numbers

The minutes officer will allocate a minute number. Minutes that go to Ministers’ offices without numbers may be returned unread.

To obtain a minute number urgently, call the minutes officer and advise about the urgency of the minute. Fax the minute to [number]. Note that even if a copy has been faxed, the correct number of copies are still to be provided to the minutes officer.

Attachments

  • Attach a ‘Sign or initial here’ flag at each place a signature or initial is required.
  • All attachments on the original minute must be fl agged.
  • Attachments must be referred to in the text of the minute, and listed at the end of the minute.
  • Previous minutes must also be attached if referred to in the minute.

If there is a letter attached to the minute that is to be signed by the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary, it should be created as a separate Word document using the appropriate template. Parliamentary Section will check formatting etc before forwarding to the Minister’s office.

  • Do not create the letter as a separate page to the minute document.
  • Provide letters on correct letterhead with attachments and appropriately sized and addressed envelopes.
  • Send the letter(s) as an email attachment to the MINUTES TO THEMINISTER email account (do not send the minute to this email account).

The process

START

  1. Action area determines that minute is needed</>
  2. Action officer prepares minute (using the template)
  3. FAS or AS clears and signs minute
  4. PAO clears media releases and if minute is Budget-in-Confidence, action area has it cleared through FAS PSD or AS Budgets
  5. Action area delivers original and copies of minute to minutes officer, Parliamentary Section
  6. Minutes officer checks and records minute on [agency system], files one copy, passes two to Executive
  7. Parliamentary Section assembles original and sends remaining copies of minute to Minister’s office by regular courier run
  8. Minister considers minute, makes comments and signs original
  9. Minister’s office keeps copy, updates [agency system], returns original to Parliamentary Section
  10. Minutes officer notes comments, updates [agency system] and arranges return of minute to action officer
  11. Action area collects and files original. Action officer ensures that any action arising from the minute is completed.

FINISH

3.3 Protocols—Guidance for handling Ministerial correspondence and briefing—an example

Ministerial Replies

Generally correspondence addressed to the Minister will be signed by the Minister or an adviser—departmental responses should only be prepared for routine matters or matters that were incorrectly referred to the Minister.

The briefing template includes a feedback mechanism for authors—the Minister’s Office has set a goal of 90% acceptance of Ministerial replies.

Turnaround Times

The requirement for preparing responses to correspondence is 10 working days for other Members of Parliament, constituents, and VIPs—and 15 working days for other people. There may be occasions when this is not possible (e.g. when cross-agency coordination or intensive research is required) in which case an interim response should be prepared, or the Minister’s office notified.

Always be mindful of timeframes—provide as much time as possible for our Ministers to consider issues, but without compromising the content.

Ministerial Routine Publications

Approval for Publications

As a general rule all publications are to be provided to the Minister no less than 14 days from the intended date of publication, for at least consideration. The Minister will then always have an opportunity to comment on the publication before it is released.

If no comment is received for routine publications it can be assumed that the Minister is happy for the publication to be released (although this intention must be made clear in the brief ).

Hot Issues/campaigns/potentially controversial publications

These arrangements do not replace the need for the Minister to be fully briefed on ‘high profile’ publications, or for Ministerial approval to be a requirement of release on some occasions—particularly where the Minister will be directly involved in its release (e.g. if the Minister is going to formally release the publication through a media event, or it is potentially controversial and/or likely to become a ‘hot issue’).

When to Copy Briefs between Ministers’ Offices

All briefs prepared for the Minister [title] and the Parliamentary Secretary are to be copied to the Minister[title].

A full set of QTBs will be provided to our Ministers, and to the Senator who is responsible for our business in the Senate to ensure that they are prepared to respond to questions that may be raised in either House.

Seeking Extensions There are to be no extensions given for Ministerials for other Members of Parliament/Ministers without appropriate clearance being first obtained from the Ministers’ Offices— this must be through the Ministerial and Parliamentary Services Section.
Contact with Ministers’ Offices and MPs’ Offices

Significant contacts by officers with Ministers’ office staff should be recorded in a file note. Emails should be filed.

Any requests for information from Members of Parliament should be cleared with the relevant adviser in the Minister’s Office via the Departmental Liaison officer.

Telephone contact with Ministerial advisers should generally be at the SES level. Other staff should contact DLOs in the first instance. Where appropriate oral briefings should be followed up with a written brief.

3.4 Extracts from the Legislation Directory (July 2004)—Department of Transport and Regional Services53

Contents

  • ACT Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988
  • Adelaide Airport Curfew Act 2000
  • Air Accidents (Commonwealth Government Liability) Act 1963
  • Air Navigation Act 1920
  • Air Navigation (Charges) Act 1952
  • The Air Navigation Legislation (Validation and Interpretation) Act 1982
  • Air Passenger Ticket Levy (Imposition) Act 2001
  • Air Passenger Ticket Levy (Collection) Act 2001
  • Aircraft Noise Levy Act 1995
  • Aircraft Noise Levy Collection Act 1995
  • Airports Act 1996
  • Air Services Act 1995
  • Albury-Wodonga Development Act 1973
  • Ashmore and Cartier Islands Acceptance Act 1933
  • Australian Airlines (Conversion to Public Company) Act 1988
  • Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988
  • Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988
  • Australian Capital Territory Stamp Duty Act 1969
  • Australian Capital Territory Tax Acts (Various)
  • Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988
  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990
  • Australian National Railways Commission Sale Act 1997
  • Australian National Railways Commission (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 1983
  • Aviation Fuel Revenues (Special Appropriation) Act 1988
  • Aviation Transport Security Act 2004
  • Canberra Water Supply (Googong Dam) Act 1974
  • Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 1991
  • Christmas Island Act 1958
  • Christmas Island Agreement Acts 1958
  • Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Various)
  • Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955
  • Coral Sea Islands Act 1969
  • Damage by Aircraft Act 1999
  • Euthanasia Laws Act 1997
  • Growth Centres (Financial Assistance) Act 1973
  • International Air Services Commission Act 1992
  • Interstate Road Transport Act 1985
  • Interstate Road Transport Charge Act 1985
  • Jervis Bay Territory Acceptance Act 1915
  • Land Commissions (Financial Assistance) Act 1973
  • Lighthouses Act 1911
  • Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims Act 1989
  • Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995
  • Marine Navigation Levy Act 1989
  • Marine Navigation Levy Collection Act 1989
  • Marine Navigation (Regulatory Functions) Levy Act 1991
  • Marine Navigation (Regulatory Functions) Levy Collection Act 1991
  • Maritime College Act 1978
  • Maritime Transport Security Act 2003
  • Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989
  • National Rail Corporation Agreement Act 1992
  • National Railway Network (Financial Assistance) Act 1979
  • National Transport Commission Act 2003
  • Navigation Act 1912
  • Norfolk Island Act 1979
  • Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910
  • Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978
  • Parliament Act 1974
  • Pay-roll Tax (Territories) Assessment Act 1971
  • Port Statistics Act 1977
  • Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability) Act 1981
  • Protection of the Sea (Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Act 1993
  • Protection of the Sea (Imposition of Contributions to Oil Pollution Compensation Fund—Customs) Act 1993
  • Protection of the Sea (Imposition of Contributions to Oil Pollution Compensation Fund—Excise) Act 1993
  • Protection of the Sea (Imposition of Contributions to Oil Pollution Compensation Fund—General) Act 1993
  • Protection of the Sea (Powers of Intervention) Act 1981
  • Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983
  • Protection of the Sea (Shipping Levy) Act 1981
  • Protection of the Sea (Shipping Levy Collection) Act 1981
  • Qantas Sale Act 1992 Part 3, Sections 7–13 Inclusive
  • Railway Agreement (Western Australia) Act 1961
  • Railway Standardization (New South Wales and Victoria) Agreement Act 1958
  • Railway Standardization (South Australia) Agreement Act 1949
  • Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act 1923
  • Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Act 1993
  • Road Transport Reform (Dangerous Goods) Act 1995
  • Road Transport Reform (Heavy Vehicles Registration) Act 1997
  • Road Transport Reform (Vehicles and Traffic) Act 1993
  • Roads Acts Amendment Acts (Various)
  • Roads Grants Act 1980
  • Roads Grants Act 1981
  • Roads to Recovery Act 2000
  • Shipping Grants Legislation Act 1996
  • Shipping Registration Act 1981
  • Ships (Capital Grants) Act 1987
  • Seat of Government Act 1908
  • Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909
  • Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910
  • Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1922
  • States Grants (Roads) Act 1977
  • State Grants (Urban Public Transport) Acts 1974
  • State Grants (Urban Public Transport) Acts 1978
  • State Grants (Urban Public Transport) Amendment Act 1979
  • Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Act 1977
  • Stevedoring Industry Acts (Termination) Act 1977
  • Stevedoring Industry Charge (Termination) Act 1977
  • Stevedoring Industry Levy Act 1977
  • Stevedoring Industry (Collection) Act 1977
  • Stevedoring Levy (Collection) Act 1998
  • Stevedoring Levy (Imposition) Act 1998
  • Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Act 1963
  • Sydney Airport Curfew Act 1995
  • Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997
  • Tasmanian Agreement (Launceston Precision Tool Annexe) Act 1980
  • Telstra Corporation Act 1991, Division 2 of Part 9
  • Territories Law Reform Act 1992
  • Trade Practices Act 1974, Part X
  • Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003
  • Urban and Regional Development (Financial Assistance) Act 1974
  • Supplementary Documents
  • Dairy Produce Act 1986
  • Index

Legislation Directory

Group Responsible: Programmes—Transport South East
Responsible officer:
Contact Number:

Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988

Purpose

The Act is to provide funding for the development and maintenance of land transport systems. Funding may be provided for:

  • the National Highway
  • National Arterial roads (these provisions are used to administer the Government’s Roads of National Importance Program)
  • state arterial roads
  • mainline rail projects
  • provincial cities and rural highways
  • local roads
  • the Black Spots Program
  • urban public transport projects.

The Act also provides for funding of land transport and road safety research.

The Act was originally enacted as the Australian Centennial Roads Development Act to replace the previous five year road funding programme and the Bicentennial Roads Program. The Act originally had a five year life. In 1993, it was renamed and amended to extend its coverage of land transport infrastructure by adding provincial cities and rural highways, Black Spots and urban public transport projects and to remove its sunset provision.

This Act is currently used to fund the National Highway and Roads of National Importance Program, the Black Spots Program and a small research programme which includes the Commonwealth’s contributions to Commonwealth and/or State road bodies.

To ensure continuity of funding for the Commonwealth’s land transport programmes, the Act contains provisions which credit (hypothecate) a portion of the excise on petrol and diesel fuel to a Special Account for expenditure under the Act. Similar provisions were contained in the previous roads legislation and the Bicentennial Roads Program was funded through an additional excise levy on fuel of 2 cents per litre.

To ensure maximum Budget flexibility, governments have adopted the practice of specifying the funding to be provided for the purposes of the Act in the Budget rather than rely on the hypothecation provisions.

Generally, payments are made to State and Territory Governments for projects approved by the Minister under the Act. For mainline rail projects, payment may be made to approved railway authorities and, for research projects, to approved research organisations.

The Act has also been used to fund the road safety communications activities of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Role and responsibilities of the Minister

For the purposes of funding under the Act the Minister may declare:

  • a National Highway, a National Arterial Road (Road of National Importance), or a State Arterial Road
  • an interstate mainline railway and an approved railway authority
  • a provincial cities and rural highways road
  • a Black Spot project or road safety measure
  • an urban transport project
  • an approved research organisation and approved road safety organisation (the ATSB was declared an approved road safety organisation in 1999).

The Minister also approves individual projects under the various categories for funding under the Act and may approve National Highway or Black Spots programmes of works. The annual road safety communications programmes of the ATSB are also approved under the Act.

Although the Act provides for funding of local roads, the procedure is for the Minister to determine principles for the allocation of funds, paid to a State, to local government bodies in the State for the construction and maintenance of local roads. Under these provisions the Minister does not approve projects on local roads. However, under the Black Spots Program individual projects are approved.

To ensure that the excise revenue hypothecated under the Act equals expenditure determined in the Budget the Minister is required, after consultation with the Treasurer, to determine the charge rate for a financial year expressed in cents per litre. The charge rate is the share of fuel excise credited for expenditure under the Act. The Act contains a default charge rate which applies if a determination is not made. A determination is a disallowable instrument and may be disallowed by either House of Parliament up to 15 sitting days after tabling.

All maintenance works on the National Highway over $2 million in value and all construction works on the National Highway and Roads of National Importance must be put to public tender. The Minister has the power to grant exemptions from this requirement on grounds specified in the Act.

Requirements (e.g. Reporting, Consultation etc.)

The States are to provide monthly reports on their expenditure on projects receiving funding under the Act and the progress on those projects.

The States and other organisations receiving funding under the Act are required to provide statements of expenditure each year and verification of the expenditure statement by the State Auditor-General (or a qualified accountant in the case of other recipients).

The Minister is to provide a report to Parliament detailing payments made throughout the year under the ALTD programme, as soon as practicable after June 30 each year.

Delegated Legislation (e.g. Regulations, Determinations, Orders etc.)

Notes on Administration, which specify the administrative details, reporting requirements, etc that the States must comply with as a condition of receiving funding under the Act have been approved by the Minister. The Black Spot Program has separate Notes on Administration approved by the Minister.

Legislation Directory

Group Responsible: Regulatory Surface Transport Regulation and Reform
Contact officer:
Contact Number:

Shipping Registration Act 1981

Purpose

The Shipping Registration Act provides for Australia to register ships and bestow nationality.

It was introduced to provide a code for the registration of Australian-owned ships.

Role and responsibilities of the Minister

The Minister may:

  • in specified circumstances, disallow the name of a ship
  • appoint a Registrar and Deputy Registrar of Shipping
  • delegate the Minister’s powers or functions under the Act
  • determine the form of the seal of the Australian Shipping Registration office
  • apply to a Court for the forfeiture of a ship detained under the Act and approve the method of disposal of the ship and its equipment.
Requirements (e.g. reporting, consultation etc.)

Nil

Delegated Legislation (e.g. Regulations, Determinations, Orders etc.)

Shipping Registration Regulations

The Minister may exempt a ship from the requirement to have the name of the ship and its home port written on the outside of the ship. This exemption is rarely granted. It has been used for historic ships, for example, the replica of the Endeavour.

Legislation Directory

Group Responsible: Programmes—Transport South East
Responsible officer:
Contact Number:

Trade Practices Act 1974, Part X

Purpose

The purpose of Part X is to ensure that Australian shippers, that is, exporters and importers, have continued access to liner cargo shipping services of adequate frequency and reliability at freight rates that are internationally competitive.

Part X has its origins in the late 1920s and resulted from concerns that Australian exporters should have access to adequate and efficient liner shipping services at reasonable freight rates.

The legislation sets out conditions for granting limited, but assured exemptions from sections 45 and 47 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 to allow liner shipping companies to collaborate as conferences. The conditions include requirements to negotiate with exporters and importers on standards of service and freight rates to be provided under registered agreements. Part X provides a legislative framework within which shipping conferences and their customers can resolve problems through commercial negotiations, with only minimal government involvement.

Australia’s major trading partners (USA, Japan, Korea, European Union and New Zealand) have arrangements broadly similar to Part X for regulating international liner shipping.

Role and responsibilities of the Minister

The primary role of the Minister is in relation to the enforcement powers under Part X designed to deal with situations where shipping conferences may have failed to meet their obligations under that legislation.

If exporters or importers are dissatisfied with the result of their negotiations with shipping conferences, the Minister can refer the matter to the Australian Competition and Consumer

Commission (ACCC) for investigation. This can lead to the Minister removing the Part X exemptions from members of the shipping conference concerned.

Decisions by the Minister that affect the interests of conference shipping lines, and/or users of their services are reviewable by the Australian Competition Tribunal.

Requirements (e.g. Reporting, Consultation etc.)

In order to obtain the exemptions from the Trade Practices Act granted by Part X, members of a liner shipping conference must register the agreement under which they operate with the Registrar of Liner Shipping. The Registrar is an officer of the Department appointed by the Minister or a delegate of the Minister.

Prior to making a final decision on removing the Part X exemptions from members of a registered shipping conference agreement (i.e. deregistration of an agreement), the Minister is required to consult, either personally or through authorised officers, with parties to the agreement concerned directed at obtaining an undertaking or action by the parties that would make deregistration of an agreement unnecessary. In practice, such consultations have always been conducted by authorised officers. An authorised officer is an officer of the Department appointed by the Minister or a delegate of the Minister.

After exercising his or her enforcement powers under Part X, the Minister is required to table in the Parliament a statement about the decision and a copy of the ACCC’s report on the matters being dealt with under the enforcement powers.

Delegated Legislation (e.g. Regulations, Determinations, Orders etc.)

Trade Practices Regulations

3.5 Example of documentation setting out the regular meetings that occur between agency employees and the Minister, and how these work

Executive meetings with the Minister

In one portfolio, the Minister had a practice of meeting and discussing ‘for decision’ briefing submissions with the relevant Division Head or the officer who had signed the briefing (usually SES). The Secretary, relevant Ministerial advisers and the Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) also attended these meetings.

As well as providing the opportunity for regular, face-to-face contact with the Minister, the practice streamlined the decision-making process and, importantly, the communication of decisions or further briefing requirements back to the Department.

The meetings also helped to ensure that any statutory deadlines or legislative compliance issues were dealt with in the appropriate timeframe.

Meetings were based on agendas listing the briefings to be discussed (see section on ‘Agenda Process’ below).

Indicative meeting times were set with more frequent meetings in parliamentary sitting weeks. In practice, there was considerable variation in the indicative times and even days. When the Minister was interstate, meetings would occur through a video link.

In general, briefings listed on an agenda for a particular week were required to be lodged with the Department’s Parliamentary Services Unit by c.o.b. on Wednesday in the preceding week.

Urgent briefings or briefings delivered ‘by-hand’ were required to be delivered to the DLO and not left with the receptionist at the Minister’s Office. If a briefing was delivered direct to an adviser (not the preferred practice), a copy was also required to be provided for concurrent delivery to the DLO.

Agenda process

When obtaining a briefing number from the Department’s Parliamentary Services Unit, officers were asked to nominate a date on which they would like the briefing to be discussed. These ‘active’ briefings became the primary source for the agenda.

Each week (Wednesday afternoon) staff of the Parliamentary Services Unit queried the Department’s document management system for all briefings flagged for a meeting in the following week. This list was circulated to Divisions who added or deleted items.

A draft agenda was then sent to the DLOs in the Minister’s Office who consulted with the advisers. Further items may have been added or deleted. A near final agenda was usually returned to the Parliamentary Services Unit on Friday afternoon for circulation (and discussion, if necessary) with the Department’s executive the following Monday.

After the meetings, the DLOs notified the Parliamentary Services Unit of the briefings discussed and decided and those which were not discussed. The latter group was renominated for the draft agenda in the following week, and the process started again. Items continued to be listed on the draft agenda until they were dealt with or removed from the ‘active’ list.

The process relied heavily on the ‘Date Required’ section of the briefing template.

Electronic Copies

All briefing submissions were also sent electronically to a folder shared with the Minister’s office.

Return of papers to the department

Following the meetings, papers were generally returned from the Minister’s office via the DLO to the Parliamentary Services Unit. This was necessary to enable the Minister’s signed decision and/or approval to be scanned into the document management system record for ease of reference. After scanning, the papers were returned to the owning Division for filing.

On the rare occasions that papers were returned with the Divisional representative, the original signed decision and/or approval was required to be forwarded to the Parliamentary Services Unit for scanning. The papers were then returned to the owning Division for filing.

3.6 Extract from departmental document on the preparation of Question Time Briefs: Online Information Sheet: Parliamentary Sitting Day Processes—Department of Family and Community Services

QTB process on a Parliamentary sitting day

8.00–9.00am
Ministers’ advisers and Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) review the press clippings. Ministers’ advisers meet to discuss the day’s issues and decide on Question Time Briefs (QTB) requirements.

Branches should consider the day’s media and any other ‘hot issues’ and initiate QTBs if aware of an issue. However, to avoid unnecessary work, it is worthwhile checking with the DLOs or adviser if the QTB is required. If a new QTB is planned, the coordinator should contact the QTB Officer to obtain a QTB number and place the QTB on the daily listing.

9.00–9.15am
DLOs from the Minister’s office confirm QTBs required.

By 9.30am
QTB officer notifies Branch and/or State Office (STO) coordinators by phone and email of QTBs required, relevant QTB numbers and the name of responsible adviser(s).

Coordinators notify Branch Managers and pass request to Section Managers and/or action officer. Action officers may discuss the QTB with the relevant adviser to ensure clarity on what is required and the particular line to take— early contact may save rewrites later.

By 10.00am
Line areas should advise the QTB officer of any new QTBs or rewrites they are initiating so these can be included on the list—this helps DLOs and other Ministers’ staff to plan their time and prepare to brief the Ministers. Any minor edits of existing cleared QTBs should be done and the QTB officer notified now.

10.00–11.00am
Branch and/or STO coordinators monitor progress of preparation of QTBs and provide the QTB officer with regular updates. Action officer should ensure Branch Manager is available to clear the QTB. If the Branch Manager is unavailable, other SES officers should be identified to clear the QTB. This must be done early to minimise delays after QTBs are drafted.

Cleared QTBs are saved by Branch coordinator in the sitting folder in the shared ‘PQTB’ directory by no later than 10.45am. The Branch coordinator advises the QTB officer when the QTB is saved in directory. STO and agency coordinators email QTBs to the QTB officer and notify by phone that they have been sent.

10.45–11.00am
The QTB officer advises the DLOs that the QTBs are in the shared ‘PQTB’ directory. Briefs checked and printed by [coordinating area] for feedback and performance monitoring purposes.

11.00am–12.30pm
DLOs provide QTBs to advisers for review and editing. Advisers discuss QTBs with action officers or Branch Managers and any re-drafting is undertaken. Advisers may discuss editing being done in the Ministers’ offices to ensure any proposed changes are accurate. Where there is substantial rewriting of a QTB, it will be cleared with the action officer by the adviser or the DLOs during the morning. Final QTBs are printed for the Minister’s folder.

By 12.30pm
All QTBs are finalised and DLOs also finalise the Minister’s folder. DLOs provide copies of QTBs to the Prime Minister and other Ministers where appropriate. Action officers must be available until 2.00pm to discuss QTBs with advisers.

1.00–2.00pm
Late issues discussed with Branch Managers (or delegated officer on roster).

2.00–3.30pm
Branch Managers (or delegated officer on roster) contacted by DLOs for urgent response to questions without notice asked during Question Time.

After 3.30pm
Branch, STO and agency coordinators notified if Ministers’ offices have changed QTBs. Branch coordinator should advise action officer that QTB has changed and save revised QTB (from ‘PQTB’ directory) over author’s original to ensure latest version available for any future update.

3.7 Extract from How to Deal with Ministers and the Parliament: A Guide for Senior Officers—Australian Taxation Office

Chapter 5 Preparing Ministerials

What is a Ministerial?

Ministerials are correspondence (letters, emails and facsimiles) sent to the Treasurer or the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer who, in certain circumstances, turn to the Tax Office to draft a response.

This type of correspondence is sent for response initially to the Treasury which then allocates it to its agencies, including the Tax office.

Some Ministerial responses require input from both agencies, and sometimes a number of agencies, to address the issues raised. Parliamentary Services coordinates arrangements with Treasury and other agencies as appropriate.

How do I receive a Ministerial?

Your business line (BSL) Ministerial coordinator receives all Ministerials for the BSL via the parliamentary document management system (PDMS).The coordinator forwards them to the appropriate officer for response.

PDMS is the Tax Office electronic system for tracking, routing and preparing Ministerial replies and other parliamentary documents.

Preparing Ministerial replies

All letters from federal Members of Parliament (MPs) must receive a reply signed by a Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary.

All letters from constituents or businesses will usually be signed by a member of the Minister’s staff . There will be times when the Minister will sign letters direct to this group, and Parliamentary Services will provide guidance if this is required.

As the Ministers or their staff will be signing the Ministerial, the response must be written as though the Minister is responding to the constituent or business—not the Tax office.

Responses should be written in plain English. The information provided must be current and clearly assess, from the Minister’s perspective, the issues raised. The response should be in the appropriate style and tone, technically correct and free from spelling and grammatical errors.

The Tax Office Style Guide, available on [agency system] provides general advice on clear writing and preferred styles.

Some key points to keep in mind when preparing a reply.

  • The reply must be tailored to the specific situation of the writer.
  • The facts are to be gathered and logically ordered in the reply so as to move smoothly from issue to issue until all issues are addressed.
  • When using an abbreviation or acronym for a noun, the first reference in a letter should be fully spelt out with the abbreviation or acronym following in brackets.
  • Any relevant Tax Office publications, such as brochures or public rulings, should be attached to the Ministerial not just quoted.
  • Try not to quote sections of Acts in Ministerials.
  • Responses should be empathetic and not duly negative. Positive messages providing reasons and pointing the way forward are preferred by the Ministers.
  • Responses should be in an appropriate tone.
  • Responses should include contact names and numbers where possible.
  • The Ministerial reply should be kept to one to two pages.

Formatting

When preparing your response, you will find that the PDMS system automatically includes the correct spacing between paragraphs through the template, such as spaces between address block and salutation and space for the signature.

The closing line and/or signature must not be the only lines on the page. If this is the case, the reply is to be re-formatted by:

  • either reducing the size of the margins, the spacing between paragraphs and/or the number of spaces between the address block and the salutation, or
  • the second last paragraph is forced, by the use of a manual page break or other means, to appear on the last page.

Template

The template for the completion of the response is found on the PDMS. The PDMS automatically generates and produces the Ministerial reply outline, which includes the correct letterhead, author’s address, salutation, opening paragraph and appropriate signature block.

Standard paragraphs

The second paragraph of the Ministerial reply should state one of the following, where the reply concerns the Tax office. These paragraphs are not to be used for government policy, initiatives or election commitments.

  • Where the subject matter relates to income tax (i.e. the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 or 1997):
    • As the matter raised by you is related to the administration of the income tax laws, I asked the Commissioner of Taxation for his comments.
  • Where the subject matter relates to excise (i.e. the Excise Act 1901) change income tax laws to excise laws.
  • Where the subject matter relates to superannuation (i.e. the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992), change ‘income tax laws’ to ‘superannuation laws’.
  • Where the subject matter relates to GST (i.e. the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999), change ‘income tax laws’ to ‘goods and services tax (GST) laws’.

In all these cases, the third paragraph should begin with:

The Commissioner advised me that …

The final/closing paragraph should be short and kept to one sentence:

I trust this information will assist you or/and your constituent (insert constituent’s name).

If the response cannot assist the taxpayer, sentences similar to any of the following may be used:

  • I trust this information will help you understand the government’s position on this matter.
  • Your comments will be considered in the light of the government commitment to a (subject) that is fair for all concerned. To that end, your comments will be taken into account in any future review of (subject).
  • Thank you for bringing these matters to the government’s attention.
  • The Minister has asked me to thank you for bringing your views to his attention.
  • In light of this advice, I am unable to offer any further assistance to you on this subject. Thank you for writing.

Secrecy provisions relating to Ministerials

The Commissioner is bound by secrecy provisions that apply to all the Acts he administers. His ability to provide taxpayer information to a Minister without breaching the various secrecy provisions depends on the purpose for disclosing the information and the particular taxation legislation involved.

In accordance with advice received from the Solicitor-General, the Tax Office can provide information about a taxpayer to the Treasurer and the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, in respect of some laws where the disclosure is ‘within the performance of an officer’s duties’. Some of which are:

  • to assist the Minister to respond to an inquiry or representation received bya taxpayer, or
  • to permit the Minister to consider an application by a taxpayer under the Compensation for Detriment caused by Defective Administration (CDDA) scheme.

However, there are some tax laws that do not allow the disclosure of taxpayer information. Some of which are:

  • indirect tax laws (including GST)
  • Excise Act 1901
  • Diesel and Alternative Fuel Grant Scheme Act 1999

For full information, please refer to the Law administration practice statement: PS LA 2004/9—Disclosure to Ministers of Information about the Affairs of Taxpayers.

Timeframes

The Treasurer and Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer identify Ministerials as high priority tasks and responses should be provided in a timely manner. The deadline for a Ministerial is 15 working days from registration of the Ministerial by Parliamentary Services to being sent to the Minister’s office for signature. This usually provides the BSLs 10 working days to answer Ministerials and less time for those Ministerials requiring urgent responses.

As soon as it becomes apparent that a response will not meet the deadline, Parliamentary Services should be told.

Some situations could arise because the Tax Office is waiting for an external outcome such as a decision of a court case, or the investigation into the issues raised is complex and lengthy and therefore the set deadline is not able to be met.

Clearance processes

Draft responses must be approved by the appropriate EL 2 officer or above(some BSLs require SES approval) before being sent via PDMS to Parliamentary Services for a final quality assurance check and sending to the Minister’s office.

3.8 An example of departmental Intranet guidance on handling media inquiries

Media inquiries

The Minister’s office has issued strict procedures for dealing with the media.

The first rule is, DON’T—unless you have first been through the formal clearance process.

Any political inquiry, policy announcement or sensitive issue should be handled in every case by the Minister’s office.

For background on programmes or policies, the Minister’s office may clear an SES officer to give a media interview or provide a background briefing.

The Minister’s office may also request that a Public Affairs officer handles a media query.

The first step if you are contacted directly by a journalist by phone, email or in person is always:

Immediately refer the query to the relevant director in Public Affairs.

Public Affairs will contact the journalist to inquire:

  • What exactly they would like to know—are they seeking an interview or are they looking for background?
  • Where they are from and what they plan to do with the information?
  • What prompted the query, and who else they may have approached for comment (e.g. the Minister’s Office, NGOs, other government agencies etc)?
  • What is their deadline?

Public Affairs will then come back to the line area with a request for proposed responses to the journalist’s questions, and an indication of the urgency of the request. They will include this information in a media inquiry form, to which the talking points may be attached.

Usually, the response you draft needs to be similar to that you would prepare for a Question Time or Hot Issues brief, that is, clear, simple talking points that as far as possible directly answer the question (you may attach more detailed background information, as you would for a QTB, but journalists are usually looking for a succinct concise answer).

You should then refer your response back to Public Affairs, where an officer will look at your proposed answers, and may suggest some changes, or request some further information.

After the response has been cleared by an SES officer, Public Affairs will:

  • contact the Minister’s policy adviser and/or the media advisers to inform them of the inquiry and the proposed response
  • seek advice on whether the Minister’s office will handle the query, or whether it should be handled by the Department
  • inform the line area of the outcome, and oversee the delivery of the response.

Sometimes, a media query may just be a request to be directed to existing information, in which case Public Affairs will simply inform the Minister’s office of the media contact and report on the outcome.

Regardless of the journalist asking the question, or the nature of the query, Public Affairs needs to handle it, so that:

  • we have a consistent and coordinated response
  • we are timely in our response
  • we can keep the Minister’s office fully informed
  • we are aware of what issues are running in the media and can anticipate future developments
  • departmental officers are not exposed should there be inaccurate reporting, or media coverage of which the Minister’s office is unaware.

When off duty …

The procedures for media liaison apply as much when you are off duty as they do when you are at work. If socialising with journalists, remember that just because you are off duty, what you say is not necessarily off the record. If asked for information, suggest that the journalist contacts Public Affairs during business hours.

Media releases and events

Media releases and alerts about activities or issues concerning the Department and Australian Government policy can be issued by the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, or by the Department. Most media releases will be issued in the Minister’s name and all media opportunities should first be offered to the Minister’s office.

Preparation of media releases

All media releases must be planned and drafted in consultation with Public Affairs.

All officers should be aware of the FIVE-DAY RULE, that is, all draft media releases must be with the Minister’s office at least five days before they are to be released.

The normal process for media releases is:

  • line area and Public Affairs agree on the need to draft a media release
  • line area prepares a first draft
  • line area emails draft to the relevant Public Affairs director, where it is edited into a format designed to give it the best possible appeal to the media
  • Public Affairs returns the release to line area for Branch Head clearance, after which Public Affairs emails the release to the relevant policy adviser in the Minister’s office, copying in the assistant media adviser, the line area contacts, and, if the release concerns a Ministerial event, the Minister’s Appointments Secretary.

If the media release is not part of a Ministerial brief, Public Affairs will also liaise with the line area on the preparation of a Media Release/Event briefing note for the Minister’s policy and media advisers, summarising the background to the release, its purpose and the recommended timing for its release.

Tips on writing media releases

  • Keep the text to one typed page. If a release is too long, it will not be read by journalists. Also, a two-page release costs twice as much to distribute than a one- page release. Allow room on the page for a header.
  • Lead the release with the most important information. The first three paragraphs should cover off the three issues of what is being announced (the programme, event, new funding etc.), by whom (usually the Minister), where (at a conference, event, in Parliament etc.), and what the outcome of the announcement will be. Use plain English and avoid technical terms or jargon.
  • Illustrate the issue with examples. Be as specific as possible.
  • Report on outcomes of the policy or programme to date.
  • Put the issue into context. Provide some background, relate the issue to broader government policy if appropriate.
  • Include some quotes.
  • If in doubt, see the Minister’s previous releases on the Internet for examples, or consult your Public Affairs contacts before you begin the draft.

Joint media releases

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary often issue media releases jointly with their Australian Government, State and Territory colleagues.

The process for drafting these releases is the same as for other releases, except that it will involve liaison with other departments at the drafting stage. Ministerial media advisers will negotiate with their counterparts in other Ministers’ offices on the final text of the release. Public Affairs can provide or create joint Ministerial media release templates.

Media release distribution

When the Minister has cleared a media release for distribution, his office will email an electronic copy to Public Affairs for distribution by fax stream and on the Internet.

Public Affairs has a contract with [company], which can issue media releases to hundreds of metropolitan, regional and specialist media outlets. This is a good way to reach the Canberra political journalists but it does not guarantee that the news will reach the most appropriate media.

Costs

Public Affairs pays distribution costs of up to $100. If distribution costs are greater than that, the line area is forwarded an invoice from [agency system]. Charges are by the page, which is why we try to keep releases to one page only.

The cost of issuing releases varies from a minimum of around $60 to up to $500, depending on the number of pages and the breadth of the audience they need to reach. For example, a release that is of particular importance to regional Australians as well as to urban residents will be distributed nationally, to all metropolitan news outlets, as well as to regional and sometimes to suburban news outlets. Other releases may need to go to specialist media—business journals and newsletters, for example.

Note: Media releases are usually also boxed in the Parliament House press gallery by the Minister’s office or a departmental officer. This is a free service, but it only reaches the political reporters and unless it is a high profile political story, it will not get widespread coverage.

Identifying media implications and events—clearing briefs with Public Affairs

Most briefs relating to policies and programmes will involve issues with media implications of some sort. Sometimes the issue may provide an opportunity for a Ministerial announcement and/or media event. At other times, it may require the development of an issues management strategy.

Public Affairs should be consulted at the draft stage of most briefs, so that these issues can be identified early in the process and work can start on associated communications.

Even if there are no immediate media implications, Public Affairs will note the possibility of future interest and will be able to assist you with media and public relations management when the issue progresses.

Media monitoring and clipping

  • The Department employs contractors to monitor the print and electronic media daily.
  • Summaries of media coverage are available each day at Press Clips.
  • The Media Monitoring User Guide explains the most effective way to use the media monitoring system.
  • Public Affairs can arrange for transcripts, videos or audio CDs of stories on a user- pays basis. Note that these items are very expensive; some ABC transcripts are made available online for free from the ABC.
  • Public Affairs can also arrange to monitor coverage of an expected story if given advance notice.

Online Media Centre

Public Affairs disseminates information on recent initiatives and significant issues online to media and key stakeholders.

  • The Department’s online media centre aims to give journalists in particular, but other people as well, easy access to a wide range of information.
  • Departmental News is a regular email update of significant announcements, events and publications.
  • Links to major events can be found on our events calendar.

52 For Incoming Minister’s briefs, the background should include an outline of the relevant legislation and any significant discretions that are vested in the Minister by that legislation.

53 The Legislation Directory is currently being updated.

Appendix 4: Good Practice Checklist for Agency Heads—Supporting Ministers, Upholding the APS Values

Roles and responsibilities of agency heads and the executive

  • Have you clarified and regularly reviewed expectations of Ministers about the service expected from the agency, any general requirements for implementing government policies and programmes, and how these might be met consistent with the APS Values and any other legislative requirements?
  • Have you involved Ministers and their staff in corporate planning processes, as one means of setting out expectations around standards of service?
  • Have you included performance indicators in relation to standards of service in Portfolio Budget Statements and do you monitor them through annual reports?
  • Have you provided a feedback form or section at the end of briefs going to Ministers’ offices?
  • Have you articulated policies and procedures or provided written protocols to guide agency staff in meeting service standards agreed with Ministers consistent with the APS Values and Code of Conduct and any other legal requirements?
  • Do you discuss with the Minister, at least on an annual basis, the quality of service that has been provided, as part of your performance assessment where relevant and as one input to the assessment of the performance of your senior managers?
  • Do you invite the Minister’s Chief of Staff and advisers to meetings of the agency’s executive or management committee at least once a year, to discuss mutual support for the Minister and any issues arising from the respective roles and responsibilities of the agency and the office, including APS employees’ responsibility to uphold the APS Values?
  • Do you demonstrate senior management’s support for Values-based decision-making, by incorporating questions in agency staff attitude surveys asking employees about their level of confidence in the decision-making processes of managers during interactions with Ministers and their offices?

Senior managers

  • Do you foster an environment that encourages discussions around the practical implementation of the APS Values concerning interactions with Ministers and their offices, and remind Senior Executive Service staff in particular of their responsibilities to promote the Values, and their responsibilities as leaders to encourage discussions of ethical behaviour and uphold the Values in working with Ministers and their offices?
  • Do you regularly remind senior managers of their responsibility to provide staff with ongoing support in managing their relations with Ministers and their advisers?
  • Do you encourage the Senior Executive Service to regularly advise and mentor staff on managing relations with Ministers’ offices? Do you encourage managers to create opportunities for mentoring and one-to-one training that canvasses relations with Ministers and working closely with the Minister’s office?
  • Do you encourage the Senior Executive Service to put in place arrangements to ensure they are regularly advised on the extent and content of informal exchanges that are taking place between staff for whom they are responsible and the Minister’s office?
  • Do you encourage all staff to approach senior managers and/or a central area of expertise and support, rather than be left to make decisions on their own and feel isolated?
  • Do you provide regular feedback to all staff on particular priorities and requirements of particular Ministers?
  • Have you emphasised to senior managers the importance of adhering to agency policies, procedures and written protocols, and their responsibility to disseminate them amongst all relevant staff ?
  • Are you openly available to senior managers and their staff who have questions or are seeking advice, including with respect to your or the executive’s approach in particular cases?
  • Have you ensured that executive management makes itself personally accountable for ensuring that sound file management practices are followed?
  • Do you encourage senior managers to take relevant line staff to meetings with Ministers and/or their advisers, provided this is agreed with the Minister’s office?
  • Do you encourage senior managers to debrief employees after meetings with the Minister’s office, to give them feedback on material they have prepared for the meeting, possible future directions and priorities, and other relevant matters arising during the course of the meeting itself?
  • Do you encourage employees to convey to senior managers any concerns that the information they have provided to the Minister’s office or to the media has been presented inaccurately? Are senior managers encouraged to keep employees in touch with any steps that have been taken to address their concerns?

Non-Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries

  • Do you encourage staff to take up the line difficulties which may arise over time in a portfolio with more than one Minister or their offices so they can be handled by the senior leadership, who can ensure that the matter is raised with Ministers or Chiefs of Staff in the broader context?
  • Do you encourage senior staff to raise any operational inconsistencies that arise from the existence of more than one Minister’s office in the portfolio with the Chiefs of Staff of the Ministers concerned so that they can manage the interface?
  • Have you nominated a deputy to ensure that a particular non-Cabinet Minister is kept in touch with relevant general departmental communications as well as those tailored to that Minister’s particular functions?

Departmental Liaison officers (DLOs)

  • In selecting the DLO, have you considered, subject to the Minister’s requirements, making the appointment at sufficiently senior levels to ensure that agency advice is put on the table and that complex agency procedures can be fully explained to the Minister or advisers, and to provide relevant feedback to agency heads?
  • Have you fully briefed and prepared DLOs for their role in Ministers’ offices, including making clear to them their role as a member of the Minister’s team and their role as a departmental officer?
  • Have you ensured a careful and cautious approach to performance assessment of DLOs, ensuring feedback is obtained from both the Chief of Staff and relevant agency managers (or providing a prior set of payment in lieu of performance pay while the officer is in the DLO position)?
  • Have you considered a short rotation scheme for graduate trainees or other junior staff with strong potential, to assist an experienced DLO in a Minister’s office?

Disbursement of grants and making appointments

  • Have you ensured that both the Minister’s office and relevant employees are fully briefed on the processes under which grants schemes and appointments processes operate, including any statutory constraints that may apply. Where appropriate, have you discussed and/or agreed proposed guidelines with the Minister?

Budget processes

  • Have you covered off process arrangements for Budget preparation in incoming government briefs and in training provided by the agency for new advisers?
  • Have you ensured that Ministerial staff understand key features of the Budget process, including the importance of establishing reasonable timeframes and any consultation processes the government wishes to establish?
  • Have you taken steps to establish close and iterative consultation processes in relation to Budget issues between senior managers and advisers under your guidance and that of Ministers?
  • Have you ensured that Budget costings agreed with the Minister and advisers reflect the form of appropriation that is most appropriately aligned to the budgeted activity?

Assistance with media issues and public presentations by public servants

  • Have you developed guidelines for dealing with media inquiries that clearly outline how the agency will handle them, and the relationship between the agency and the Minister’s office in these cases?
  • Do you have policies which delineate clearance processes and if relevant, outline the role for the agency’s public affairs area?
  • Have you ensured that employees are aware that they are able to raise with their senior managers any concerns that the information they have provided has been presented inaccurately?
  • Do you ensure relevant staff are aware of and follow the guidance from the Australian Government Information Management Office on the placement of Ministerial media releases and speeches?

Good practice documentation handling

  • Have you designated an area such as a Ministerial liaison group to be the champion of the broader objectives of the principles, policies and agency protocols governing interactions with Ministers and their advisers? This includes, but is not limited to, the provision of training and expert advice. It also means being strategic about keeping the relationship animated and productive.
  • Have you ensured that written policies have been prepared for APS employees in sensitive situations that arise infrequently or are known to create challenges for employees?

Good practice in training, development and briefings

  • Have you established an agency requirement that induction processes at all levels provide explicit guidance on relations with Ministers’ offices? This information may be integrated into induction seminars and orientation, or it may be communicated by experienced staff acting as mentors to new arrivals. It could include, but not be limited to, a documentation in resource material that the staff member receives.
  • Do you record and analyse feedback obtained from the Minister’s office about briefing provided by your agency centrally, so that you can develop an overall picture of how often Ministers’ offices are providing feedback and look at trends in that information?
  • Do you ensure that feedback is transmitted back to all the employees involved in preparation of particular briefs, so they get some idea of how the Minister’s office views their efforts? Do you ensure that in cases where the feedback is negative, managers handle this sensitively, with discussions with staff about the reasons for the feedback, and what might be done to improve briefs (and their assessments) in future?

Appendix 5: Good Practice Checklist for Agencies’ Ministerial Liaison Areas—Supporting Ministers, Upholding the APS Values

Roles and responsibilities of Ministerial liaison areas

  • Have you documented important principles and policies related to interactions with Ministers’ offices and prepared written agency protocols for employees insensitive situations and in situations that arise infrequently?
  • Have you ensured that all employees likely to come into contact with Ministers or their advisers are familiar with these documents, for example, policies and protocols, and know where they can be found?
  • Do you draw to the attention of senior managers the scope for communicating these policies, procedures, written protocols and other guidance?
  • Do you provide feedback to both agency staff and staff in Ministers’ offices on ways to optimise the benefits of the working relationship?
  • Do you organise regular meetings between agency leadership and the Minister’s advisers?
  • Have you asked the Minister and/or senior Ministerial advisers if they want a written weekly bulletin from the agency that provides an overview of agency or portfolio issues requiring urgent attention?
  • Have you found out what modes of communication suit the staff in the Minister’s office, and made this information available to staff in your agency? (This should not undermine the requirements to seek and document the Minister’s decisions finally.)
  • Do you prepare and maintain accessible lists of the allocation of responsibilities amongst Ministers’ advisers for departmental staff?
  • Do you prepare and maintain accessible lists of departmental programme responsibilities for the use of Ministers and their advisers?
  • Do you respond quickly to requests, or contact the Minister’s office promptly to explain why a fast response is not possible?
  • Do you always correct incorrect information as quickly as possible, without being delayed by fear of any embarrassment?
  • Do you avoid (or at least not contribute to) party-based discussions, particularly with Ministerial staff, while nevertheless being prepared to seek confirmation of what government policy on a given matter may be?
  • Do you maintain open and ongoing communication between the Chief of Staff and the Ministerial liaison area?
  • Do you actively manage the relationship between the Minister’s offices and the agency by:
    • being proactive in seeking to identify and anticipate Ministers’ offices’ needs
    • working closely with DLOs, meeting them regularly to get their views on how the relationship is travelling
    • meeting regularly with the Chief of Staff of each agency Minister to keep abreast of issues, including staffing changes in the Minister’s office
    • ensuring that every part of the agency finds out about changes in priorities and processes for working with a Minister’s office
    • providing early feedback (including oral feedback) to relevant areas of the agency on the quality and timing of briefs, Ministerial correspondence etc.
    • preparing (in consultation with senior managers, Ministers and their offices) policies and procedures on normal working arrangements and on sensitive situations and situations that arise infrequently, and ensuring that employees are aware of those policies and procedures
    • acting as the champion of the broader objectives of the policies, procedures or protocols applying to interacting with Ministers and their advisers, and as a network contact point, trainer, and expert for quick on-the-spot advice?
  • Have you established a single area of the agency, and a single workflow management system, within which all work (other than meetings) for Ministers’ offices can be recorded or processed?
  • Have you maximised the extent to which required styles and formats are built into templates, thus minimising employees’ reliance on manuals (allowing manuals and guides to be more concise and to focus on the most important points)?
  • Have you ensured that consistent standards and policies operate across the agency, rather than devolving them to individual groups or branches?
  • Do you provide central support for portfolio agency interactions with Ministers’ offices where these entities have the same requirements as departments? Portfolio- based support can take at least four forms:
    • particularly in the case of very small agencies, allowing and encouraging those agencies who wish to do so to reach agreement with portfolio departments on making appropriate use of departmental Ministerial liaison areas
    • considering taking a portfolio approach to templates, handbooks and guidelines, so that each portfolio agency does not have to prepare and produce its own material
    • to the extent feasible, taking a portfolio-wide approach to the purchase, design, maintenance and use of workflow management software
    • using the expertise and experience of portfolio departments as a training and development resource to enhance capacity in other portfolio agencies in serving Ministers’ offices.
  • If your agency has relatively limited interaction with Ministers’ offices, guidelines such as those applying to Ministerial correspondence may not be able to be ‘automated’ for other types of interaction. If so, have you provided a checklist for employees to use for the major types of documents prepared for Ministers’ offices?

Working with new Ministers and new or less experienced advisers

  • Do you provide new Ministers and their staff with advice and support in establishing office workflow and record keeping arrangements, links to portfolio agencies’ email systems and electronic resource documents, as well as briefing on options around procedures for structuring effective interactions between the office and the agency?
  • Do you initiate a briefing for individual advisers when they start a job, to assist the adviser to get up to speed more quickly and ask questions about operational issues?

Do you provide new or less experienced advisers with a combination of training, mentoring or briefing on subjects or processes critical to their interaction with the agency?

Working with non-Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries

  • Do you encourage staff to take difficulties which arise over time in a portfolio with more than one Minister up the line as necessary so they can be handled by the agency head who can ensure that the matter is raised with Ministers in the broader context?
  • Do you encourage senior staff to raise any operational inconsistencies that emerge in a portfolio with more than one Minister or their offices with the Chiefs of Staff of the Ministers concerned so that they can manage the interface?
  • Do you determine if briefs provided to non-Cabinet Ministers should be copied to the portfolio Minister?

Working with Departmental Liaison officers (DLOs)

  • Have you invited DLOs and/or senior Ministerial advisers during non-sitting periods to contribute to briefing sessions about their roles and on how their Minister’s office works?
  • Do you encourage APS staff to copy DLOs into email correspondence with staff in Ministers’ offices?
  • Have you established regular discussions between the DLO and the agency head or deputy (about how relations are working between agency and Ministerial staff and whether service standards are being met)?
  • Do you arrange a debriefing of DLOs by the agency leadership and the managers of the Ministerial liaison area on a regular basis and on their return to the agency?
  • Have you ensured that agency staff know their DLOs, particularly in large agencies, and know to talk to them about issues that the DLOs might be able to help resolve?

Administering agency protocols

  • Have you documented agency policies and procedures on normal working arrangements with Ministers and their offices as written protocols, in consultation with the Minister and Chief of Staff and agency head?
  • Have you prepared for the Minister’s office a document describing the framework within which the agency operates, particularly any relevant statutory and administrative features, and roles and responsibilities?
  • Have you included in agency materials a regularly updated listing of the names and responsibilities of all staff in Ministers’ offices?
  • Have you documented, for employees’ information, basic details about the channels of communication that the agency maintains with Ministers and their offices?
  • Have you prepared information sheets that explain to employees the agency’s operations on a normal parliamentary sitting day?
  • Have you prepared statements of employees’ roles and responsibilities in dealing with Ministerial material?
  • Have you spelt out who is authorised to clear briefs or provide advice and how less formal communications are to be reported up the line, as measures to promote quality of service to the Minister and the office?

Working during caretaker periods

  • Do you obtain advice on caretaker periods from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and circulate it to all staff, indicating that it is the approach to be taken within the agency?
  • Do you discuss the implications of caretaker convention requirements well in advance with the Chief of Staff, with follow-up discussion with the Minister and Chief of Staff as soon as the election is called and, if possible, before the caretaker period commences?

Disbursement of grants and making appointments

  • Have you ensured that both the Minister’s office and relevant employees are fully briefed on the processes under which grants schemes and appointments processes operate, including any statutory constraints that may apply. Where appropriate, have proposed guidelines been discussed with and/or agreed by the Minister?

Handling briefing materials

  • Have you ensured that employees are aware that briefings should be comprehensive and outline a range of options for action, together with the agency’s analysis of the implications of the options, rather than providing only a single or a limited range of options?
  • Where additional material is sought, do you ensure that employees understand that any supplementary briefing or amendments to original briefs should clarify what advice has been provided at the request of advisers (‘your office has also asked that we canvass …’)?
  • Do you ensure that employees understand that in general, briefing advice should not be changed or opinions omitted if the agency remains of the belief that particular arguments should be considered by the Minister? Do you advise that where any changes to advice are involved, the brief should record the nature of the changes and the source of the request?
  • Do you ensure that employees indicate in any briefing material or record where supplementary briefings have been prepared at the request of a Minister or a Minister’s adviser?
  • Do you ensure that employees, or their managers, are always confident that instructions are coming from the Minister by:
    • in the case of briefs, requiring the Minister’s signature before acting on the recommendations
    • in the case of significant oral requests from Ministerial staff, requiring subsequent confirmation in writing or by email that the request is endorsed by the Minister?

Briefing relating to particular electorates

  • Have you advised employees to distinguish between providing information by electorate to the Minister (which may be appropriate), and providing information directly to Government backbenchers (which is generally not appropriate)?
  • Where briefing is being prepared on an electorate basis, do you advise staff to use community-wide standards of statistical reliability and privacy, and a timescale relevant to the services delivered?

Supporting Budget processes

  • Have you covered off process arrangements for Budget preparation in incoming Government briefs to the Minister and in training provided by the agency for new advisers?
  • Have you ensured that Ministerial staff understand key features of the Budget process, including the importance of establishing reliable, reasonable timeframes to accommodate any consultation processes the government wishes to establish? Have you made Ministerial staff aware of the need for close and iterative processes between senior managers and advisers under the guidance of Ministers and agency heads throughout the Budget process?
  • Have you ensured that Budget costings agreed with the Minister and advisers reflect the form of appropriation that is most appropriately aligned to the budgeted activity?

Record keeping procedures

  • Have you prepared a written agency policy that significant contact by employees with the Minister’s office staff, whether face-to-face or by phone, is recorded in a file note? Similarly, do you advise staff that emails should be retained in the agency’s record keeping system?

Responding to questions on notice and appearing before parliamentary committees

  • Have you prepared written agency protocols or other guidance to assist Senior Executive Service employees appearing before parliamentary committees to respond in a manner that is consistent with their rights and responsibilities?

Good practice in training, development and briefings

  • Have you ensured induction processes at all levels provide explicit guidance on relations with Ministers’ offices? (This information may be integrated into induction seminars and orientation, or it may be communicated by experienced staff acting as mentors to new arrivals. It could include, but not be limited to, documentation in resource material that the staff member receives.)
  • Do you apply the information contained in formal feedback on briefs going to Ministers’ offices:
    • to record and analyse the feedback centrally, so that agencies can develop an overall picture of how often Ministers’ offices are providing feedback and look at trends in that information
    • to transmit feedback back to all employees involved in preparation of particular briefs, so they get some idea of how the Minister’s office views their eff orts. (In cases where the feedback is negative, are managers advised to handle this sensitively, with discussions with staff about the reasons for the feedback, and what might be done to improve briefs and their assessments in future?)

Appendix 6: Good Practice Checklist for APS Employees—Supporting Ministers, Upholding the APS Values

APS employees are responsible through their agency heads to the Minister and cannot be directed by Ministerial advisers. They are equally bound to build cooperative, professional relationships with Ministerial advisers that do not compromise the distinct role of the APS and the operation of the APS Values.

Supporting Ministers, Upholding the Values: A Good Practice Guide is available at: http://www.apsc.gov.au. There is a discussion of how to apply the Values of responsiveness, accountability and remaining apolitical in Chapter 2 of the Australian Public Service Commission publication, APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads.

The following checklist has been developed to assist staff in applying these principles during their interactions with Ministers and their advisers.

Working with Ministers and their advisers

  • Respond quickly to requests, or contact the Minister’s office promptly to explain why a fast response is not possible. It does not help the relationship when employees know something will take a number of days or weeks, but do not tell advisers that this is the case.
  • Always correct incorrect information as quickly as possible, without being delayed by fear of any embarrassment. Oral advice should be followed by written advice.
  • Avoid (or at least do not contribute to) party-based discussions, particularly with Ministerial staff, while nevertheless being prepared to seek confirmation of what government policy on a given matter may be.
  • If you need to contact an adviser from a different Ministerial portfolio, contact should be made through your own Minister’s office and the relevant agency should be involved in any discussions.
  • Where there are requests from Ministers’ offices that entail departmental funding and you are unclear whether your agency should be providing such support, you can consult guidance prepared by the Department of Finance and Administration on entitlements of Ministers and their staff . This guidance is available in Appendix 2 to Supporting Ministers, Upholding the Values on the web address above.

Working during caretaker periods

  • As an election approaches you should make yourself familiar with and follow the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s guidance on the operation of the caretaker conventions. These are for observation during the caretaker period, which comes into effect after an election has been called by the government of the day and is one of the especially sensitive periods for relationships between the Government and the APS. If you are unsure about how to handle issues that arise during the caretaker period, you should raise the matter with senior agency management in the first instance. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Government Division can provide advice on issues that arise for agencies, and is an important port of call regarding caretaker conventions during an election period.

How to handle the disbursement of grants and making appointments

  • When making decisions, you must act in accordance with the law, including the APS Values and Code of Conduct, and with any government policy and decisions. If a conflict arises between government policy, agency guidelines and the law, the law prevails.
  • If you have concerns that your Minister’s office is not fully briefed on the processes under which grants schemes and appointments processes operate, you should raise these with your senior managers.

Briefing materials

  • Ensure that you, or your managers, are always confident that instructions are coming from the Minister by:
    • in the case of briefs, requiring the Minister’s signature before acting on the recommendations
    • in the case of significant oral requests from Ministerial staff , requiring subsequent confirmation in writing or by email that the request is endorsed by the Minister.
  • Ensure that briefings are comprehensive and outline a range of options for action, and the agency’s analysis of the implications of the options, rather than providing only a single or a limited range of options.
  • Where you believe that your Minister’s inclination to pursue a particular option is not based on a full appreciation of the facts, you should raise with senior staff in your agency the need to advise your Minister accordingly.
  • You may receive requests from your Ministers’ offices seeking changes or additions to briefs they receive from the agency. This may mean that briefs have not been sufficiently comprehensive or have been overtaken by events, or that new matters have come to light; on occasions, it may represent a request to vary the advice or restrict the scope of the brief. Where additional material is sought, it is important that any supplementary briefing or additions to original briefs clarify what advice has been provided at the request of advisers (‘your office has also asked that we canvass …’).
  • In general, briefing advice should not be changed or opinions omitted if your agency remains of the belief that particular arguments should be considered by the Minister. Where any changes to advice are involved, the brief should record the nature of the changes and the source of the request.

Providing briefings that relate to particular electorates

  • You should respond positively where your Minister seeks briefing materials and speeches tailored to a specific electorate in relation to particular functions or activities.
  • If the collation of electorate-specific data raises issues about the prudent management of agency resources, consult your manager.
  • Speeches and speaking notes should be prepared on the assumption that the Minister’s office will incorporate political commentary. Speeches should not be prepared for Ministers during the caretaker period.
  • You should respond to requests for electorate briefings and speeches from Government backbenchers where the backbencher is representing the Minister on the task that gave rise to the briefing request, or the information is readily available to any Member of Parliament. Provision of electorate briefing material directly to Government backbenchers would otherwise generally not be appropriate. Any requests for briefing by backbenchers should be made through the relevant Minister’s office.
  • Where electorate or international visits call for briefing on a range of matters outside the Minister’s portfolio, the general practice is that departments contact one another for briefing or facts and then add this information to the package of materials provided for the visit.
  • Where briefing is being prepared on an electorate basis, it is good practice to use community-wide standards of statistical reliability and privacy, and a timescale relevant to the services delivered.

Supporting Cabinet processes

  • Cabinet submissions (which are taken to Cabinet by Ministers) seek decisions on the Minister’s recommendations; Cabinet memoranda present the conclusions that departments and agencies in a Minister’s portfolio, or several Ministerial portfolios, are seeking to convey and may form the basis for a Cabinet request for further action to be taken.
  • Cabinet memoranda are departmental documents, and should not be seen as necessarily binding portfolio Ministers or reflecting their views, although they are still taken to Cabinet by Ministers. This means that, while close consultation with the Minister and/or the Minister’s office will still be required, the findings and conclusions will be those of the Department.
  • Similarly, coordination comments on both submissions and memoranda are recorded as the views of the departments providing them, are intended to add to the information available to the Cabinet in its deliberative processes and should not be seen as binding Ministers or necessarily reflecting their views. The Cabinet Handbook notes that it is for departments to settle with their Ministers the extent to which Ministers may wish to clear their department’s coordination comments or otherwise be drawn into the consultation process.
  • The same principles of confidentiality and Ministerial consultation apply with Cabinet submissions and memoranda as with other Ministerial interactions. Stringent guidance around process issues for the preparation and handling of Cabinet materials is set out in detail in the Cabinet Handbook which can be found on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website.

Record keeping procedures

  • All significant decisions or actions need to be documented to a standard that would withstand independent scrutiny. Briefings and records maintained need not be lengthy, but should be fit for their purpose.
  • The Australian National Audit Office has provided guidance on good record keeping.
  • This is available at: http://www.anao.gov.au. The National Archives of Australia has also provided advice for all APS employees on good record keeping.
  • It is good practice to maintain a record of oral briefing provided to Ministers and their advisers of significant issues and any resulting discussions and decisions.
  • On key issues, and where sufficient time is available, Ministers should be provided with written briefings to give assurance that the issues and options have been clearly presented and that any decisions taken by the Minister are understood and recorded.
  • Employees should be aware that any email, and not just those that have been formally put on the record, can be the subject of a freedom of information request.

Responding to questions on notice and appearing before parliamentary committees

  • Responses to questions on notice are Ministerial and not departmental. Draft responses should be prepared and provided to the Minister.
  • Public servants are regularly called upon to provide information directly to the Parliament by appearing before committees. The key principle applying to these interactions is the need to maintain the confidence of both the Minister and the Parliament. APS employees are required by the Parliament to provide full and accurate information about the factual and technical background to policies and their administration. This may include reasons for the policy, but not comment on policy.
  • Most APS employees liable to appear before the Parliament know when they are likely to be asked sensitive questions. You should be aware that you are not expected to volunteer information, and need to forewarn Ministers where information that would have to be provided could be politically contentious. You are required, when asked, to explain the reasons for and implications of policy and you would be expected to do so in a way that avoids undermining the policy objectives. But you must not mislead, or actively avoid answers or cross the line to sell policy rather than explain it.
  • Guidance on appearing before parliamentary committees is available in the Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters (November 1989) on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website.

Assistance with media issues and public presentations by public servants

  • It is good practice to ensure that you are familiar with any agency guidelines for dealing with media inquiries.
  • Agencies are likely to receive requests for material for the media or for checks on material prepared in Ministers’ offices. Examples of such requests are: draft press releases, letters to the editor, ‘opinion editorial’ pieces or articles, and draft interview answers. These will explain policy, provide information or correct factual errors. The same good practice principles apply to ad hoc requests as to appearances before the Parliament. You should explain the reasons for and implications of government policy in a way that is consistent with other public material and the government’s policies. You should ensure that facts are accurate, and any more political comments are added in the Minister’s office. You must not mislead or cross the line to sell policy rather than explain it.
  • Where you have any concerns that information you have provided has been presented inaccurately, it is good practice to discuss such concerns first with senior managers who may be able to assist you.

Appendix 7: Resources

Australian Public Service Commission

The Australian Public Service Commission has published a range of resources relating to embedding and adhering to the APS Values. This includes a case study on embedding the APS Values in policies and procedures for serving Ministers.

There is a discussion of how to apply the APS Values of responsiveness, accountability and remaining apolitical in Chapter 2 of the Australian Public Service Commission publication, APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A Guide to Official Conduct for APS Employees and Agency Heads.

Foundations of Governance in the Australian Public Service, published by the Australian Public Service Commission in 2005, provides a substantive overview of agency heads’ obligations and responsibilities and canvasses the key elements of the legislative and policy framework within which agency heads operate.

The former Public Service Commissioner has discussed many relevant issues in:

  • ‘Managing the Interface with Ministers and the Parliament’, Senior Executive Service Breakfast presentation, 23 April 2004.
  • a round table discussion before the Senate Select Committee on A Certain Maritime Incident on 18 April 2002.
  • ‘Beyond Westminster: Defining an Australian Approach to the Roles and Values of the Public Service in the 21st Century’ (Address to IPAA Seminar), 2 May 2002.

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

The Prime Minister has commented on the appropriate roles for Ministerial staff , as well as giving guidance to ensure they avoid conflicts of interest, in the Prime Minister’s Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility (1998).

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet issues guidance on caretaker conventions. These are for observation during the caretaker period, which is one of the especially sensitive periods for relationships between the Government and the APS.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet also issues general guidance to assist agencies with the preparation of documents for presentation to the Parliament. These are often supplemented by more detailed processes within individual agencies.

Guidance on appearing before parliamentary committees is available in the Government Guidelines for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters (November 1989).

Cabinet Handbook, 5th edn (March 2004).

The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has given a perspective on relations between the public service and Ministers in a speech ‘Two Cheers for the Bureaucracy’, delivered at a lunchtime seminar in June 2003.

Other resources (including online resources)

In May 2003, the Australian National Audit Office released its Better Practice Guide on Administration of Grants.

In April 2003, the Australian National Audit Office released a newly updated Better Practice Guide on Managing Parliamentary Workflow.

In November 2001, the Australian National Audit Office released its Better Practice Principles for Developing Policy Advice.

In May 2002, the Australian National Audit Office released its audit report on Recordkeeping. This is available at: http://www.anao.gov.au.

Australian National Audit office, Taxation Reform—Community Education and Information Program, Performance Audit Report No. 12, October 1998.

The FedInfo website hosts material and links related to the Parliament and policy, specifically for public servants.

The report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit’s Inquiry into the Community Education and Information Program, Guidelines for Government Advertising, October 2000.

Legal Practice Briefings can be obtained from the Australian Government Solicitor’s website at: http://www.ags.gov.au. Briefings relevant to this guide are:

Legal practice briefing No. 72: Administrative rearrangements concerning ministers, departments and other Commonwealth bodies, and APS employees and other Commonwealth officials, often follow a general election. This issue assists those affected by these rearrangements to better understand the constitutional and statutory framework that governs action taken to ensure the successful implementation of the proposed changes. The briefing also outlines the impact that the prorogation of the Parliament and the dissolution of the House of Representatives has had on particular parliamentary business. The matters discussed in this briefing often involve government practice, as well as law. (29 October 2004)

Legal practice briefing No. 74: Aims to assist clients in the administration of their delegations and authorisations by outlining the nature of powers of delegation and authorisation and the legal principles relevant to them. (14 December 2004)

The National Archives of Australia has provided advice for all APS employees on good record keeping. This is available at: http://www.naa.gov.au/recordkeeping/default.html.

Where to get more advice

The Australian Public Service Commission runs courses on caretaker conventions when elections are approaching.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Government Division can provide advice on issues that arise for agencies, and is an important port of call regarding caretaker conventions during an election period.

Further reading

The following readings are for those interested in the issues. They are not necessarily focused on good practice advice, but concern the relationship between the APS and the Government and the Parliament.

A.J. Ayers, ‘Not Like the Good Old Days’, Garran Oration, Australian Journal of Public Administration, Vol. 55, No. 2, June 1996, pp. 3–12.

Roger Beale, ‘Ministerial Responsibility for Administrative Actions: Some Observations of a Public Service Practitioner’, Agenda, Vol. 9, No. 4, 2002, pp. 291–305.

A. Behm, L. Bennington and J. Cummane, ‘A Value-Creating Model for Effective Policy Services’, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2000, pp.162–78.

Ian Hancock, ‘The VIP Affair 1966–67: The Causes, Course and Consequences of a Ministerial and Public Service Cover-Up’, Australasian Parliamentary Review, Vol.18, No. 2, Spring 2003.

Management Advisory Board and Management Improvement Advisory Committee, Delegated Authority Handbook, AGPS, Canberra, 1994 (explores issues related to delegation); Legal Issues: A Guide for Policy Development and Administration, AGPS, Canberra, 1994 (explores managers’ approaches to and management of legal issues).

John Uhr and Keith Mackay (eds), Evaluating Policy Advice: Learning from Commonwealth Experience, Federalism Research Centre and Commonwealth Department of Finance, Canberra, 1996.