APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice provides advice for managers and employees in the APS about the application of the Code of Conduct and the APS Values. Section 1.5 of the publication discusses working with ministers’ offices in more detail.
I’ve been liaising with the Minister’s office on a policy proposal. I’ve just been instructed by one of his advisers to focus the proposal on just one option and drop the others that we had been considering. What should I do?
While it is not unusual for Ministers and ministerial advisers to deal directly with APS staff across many levels, they can’t direct you about what to do or how to do it. Only managers in your agency have the authority to give you a direction.
In a case like this, you should report the situation to your manager to discuss how best to handle the situation.
As public servants we have to understand the needs of the Government and what it is looking for in advice, but we are also obliged to make sure that the advice we provide to Ministers is objective, non-partisan, and based on the best evidence available. Our advice must also be relevant and comprehensive.
Sometimes this will mean that we have to tell a Minister, or their office, things that are adverse. That is part of the responsibility of public service professionalism.
Your agency may have internal policies relating to working with the office of a Minister. Check what’s on your agency’s intranet or get advice from your agency’s Ethics Contact Officer. If you have any questions about this article, please submit them via the form on the Integrity: Your questions answered page.
Keeping good records of advice is important. You don’t have to put everything in writing, but any matters of importance discussed, or policy advice given, should be recorded carefully. This will help maintain clarity on the issue and ensure consistency in discussion between the parties involved.
Finally, in a situation of this nature, remember that it’s also important to maintain the relationship between your agency and the Minister’s office. It’s usually best to resolve any differences as informally as possible. Remember that it is Ministers who are finally responsible for deciding what policy choices to make, and are accountable to Parliament and the community for those choices.