Integrity

Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

Good Practices for engagement with Ministers’ offices

Issue: Advice sought in limited terms or not at all

Minister seeks the Department/agency’s advice in limited terms, or in relation to specific options only, or after a decision is already made, or does not seek advice at all.

Westminster Principle:

Public servants are obliged to provide Ministers with frank and fearless advice which is apolitical and non-partisan. Such advice should lay out all the options and deal honestly with all the issues, including those that are difficult, complicated and problematic.

Ministers and Cabinet decide policy under the Westminster System. They can accept or reject the advice of a Department/agency, subject to any legislated constraints.

Good Practice:

In some circumstances, the way in which a public servant should discharge their obligation to provide frank and fearless advice may not be clear. For example, what is the obligation where a Minister seeks advice in limited terms, or in relation to specific options only, or after a decision is already made, or not at all?

In such situations – even though the circumstances may be difficult or awkward – the obligation to provide frank and fearless advice persists. As always, such advice should be apolitical, objective and of practical assistance to the Government of the day in determining how best to implement its policies.

Where a lawful decision has already been made by a Minister or Cabinet, it is the responsibility of public servants to implement that decision diligently and to the best of their professional ability. However, where a Department/agency sees the potential for risks, unintended or adverse outcomes, or excessive costs to result from a decision, the Minister must be advised. The same obligation exists where a Minister seeks advice in limited terms or in relation to specific options only.

This approach to advising Ministers is consistent with both the Westminster System principle of frank and fearless advice, and the Ethical Framework objective of adding professional quality and value to the commitments of the Government of the day.

Recommended Approach:

Department/agency to provide well researched, apolitical advice to Ministers which addresses all relevant issues including – where they (may) exist – risks and downsides.

Employees to:

  • Discuss with their manager the request for advice or – where a request has not been received – whether advice should nevertheless be provided
  • Provide supporting material to their manager, if required.

Managers to:

  • Review the request for advice or – where a request has not been received – consider whether advice should nevertheless be provided
  • Raise the matter with senior management.

Senior management to:

  • Discuss the matter with the Minister or Chief of Staff
  • Ensure that the Minister receives advice consistent with both the Westminster System principle of frank and fearless advice, and the Ethical Framework objective of adding professional quality and value to the commitments of the Government of the day.