Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

Building effective relationships with Ministers’ offices

To operate effectively, our system of government depends on cooperative, professional relationships between Ministers’ offices and Departments/agencies.  Secretaries and agency heads play an important role in this by:

  • Promoting and personally demonstrating the core values and principles set out in the Ethical Framework
  • Facilitating effective communication with Ministers’ offices by establishing clear protocols
  • Setting strategic directions to give effect to the Government’s policies
  • Discussing issues, as they arise, with Ministers’ offices and Department/agency employees engaged with those offices.

Each Minister will have his or her own operating style and support requirements.

At the earliest opportunity, the Department/agency should take steps to establish the Minister’s expectations and to document them in a clear statement of protocols.

Such a statement might also include:

  • The level of seniority of agency officers who have the authority to sign off on advice to the Minister.  The level of officer may vary depending on the importance, complexity and sensitivity of the advice
  • Key contacts within the Department/agency and their specific responsibilities.  The appropriateness of assigning a Departmental Liaison Officer should be considered as an aid for both the Minister’s office and Department/agency
  • The agreed channel for requests for information, briefings or advice; how and by when such documents are to be provided; and the authorisation or sign-off required
  • The Minister’s preferred style for briefings and correspondence
  • Handling and sign-off rules for Ministerial correspondence
  • Key dates, including agreed regular meetings between the Minister’s office and the
  • Arrangements for managing relationships with other Ministers with responsibilities for the functions of the Department/agency
  • Copies of the Ethical Framework and agency-specific Codes of Conduct.

The statement of protocols should be updated regularly.

A senior manager should also be available to orientate new ministerial staff on the work of the Department/agency and to discuss the protocols for supporting the Minister and his/her office.

Employees need to be aware that, although they are under the direction of the Secretary or agency head, they have a clear duty to respond promptly and professionally to Ministers’ requests for advice or information in ways that are consistent with the relevant policies or procedures of the agency.  Public servants cannot be directed by ministerial staff, but they must work professionally and cooperatively with them.  Where an employee cannot resolve an issue that arises in their dealings with the Minister’s office, it should be promptly referred either to the Secretary or agency head, or to the relevant senior manager.

The importance of employees keeping their Secretaries, agency heads and senior managers informed and up to date, and of maintaining good records, cannot be overemphasised.  Protocols which clarify appropriate authorisation and sign-off before fulfilling requests for information, advice or action will reduce confusion and improve quality. 

Careful selection and briefing of DLOs will help promote good relations with Ministers’ offices. Maintaining close contact with DLOs through regular meetings; ensuring they are kept up to date on developments in their home Department/agency; and rotating them will also assist.