Trust, Service

& Accountability

Behaving Ethically

Good Practices for engagement with Ministers’ offices

Issue: Request to revise advice

Employees requested by the Minister’s office to revise original advice and provide it afresh.

Westminster Principle:

Consistent with the Ethical Framework, an independent public sector provides apolitical and non-partisan advice in the public interest. After advice has been considered by the Minister or Cabinet and a lawful decision has been made, it is the responsibility of government sector employees to implement that decision.

Good Practice:

Where original advice provided to the Minister is insufficiently comprehensive or new issues or information arise, it is entirely proper for supplementary or revised advice to be provided.

However, it is critical that any supplementary or revised advice is identified as having been provided at the request of the Minister or ministerial staff (where this is the case), and that the original advice remains clear to the reader.

Note: Advice should not be changed or opinions omitted if the agency remains of the belief that particular information should be considered by the Minister.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption has highlighted that, if “it is difficult for a third party to identify the source of a particular decision …[a] false impression is created that a decision-maker is merely acting on departmental advice.”

The NSW Ministerial Code of Conduct states that “a Minister who seeks advice from a public service agency that is subject to the Minister’s direction must not direct that agency to provide advice with which the agency does not agree”. However, the code also makes it clear that a Minister can discuss or disagree with advice; make a decision contrary to advice; and direct an agency to implement a decision, whether or not the agency agrees with it.

Recommended Approach

Department/agency to provide well researched, professional, apolitical advice to Ministers which is in the public interest, transparent and is supported by evidence.

Employees to:

  • Seek request for revised advice in writing
  • Discuss the request with their manager
  • Provide supporting material to their manager, if required.

Managers to:

  • Review the request and discuss with employee
  • Consider whether it is possible to supplement or revise the advice to provide more information or a broader range of options
  • Ensure previous versions of advice are retained and accessible
  • Include a clear statement that the supplementary or revised advice is provided at the request of the Minister or Minister’s office, whichever is the case
  • Raise issue with senior management
  • Update employees on the progress of matter, if possible.

Senior management to:

  • Discuss with Minister or Minister’s Chief of Staff
  • Initiate improvements for engagement with the Minister’s office, if required
  • Remind employees of their obligations to act ethically.

For a practical example of how these principles may operate in respect of requests to revise advice, see the ethical scenario ‘A change of brief’ at page 131.