Building effective relationships with Ministers’ offices

Notwithstanding their independent status, these officeholders are usually required to make reports to a Ministerand, in a small number of cases, to the Parliament.

To operate effectively, our system of governmentdepends on cooperative, professional relationshipsbetween Ministers’ offices and Departments/agencies.Secretaries and agency heads play an important rolein 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 styleand support requirements.

At the earliest opportunity, the Department/agency should take steps to establish the Minister’sexpectations and to document them in a clearstatement 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 Department/agency
  • Arrangements for managing relationships with other Ministers with responsibilities for the functions of the Department/agency
  • Copies of the Ethical Framework, agency-specific Codes of Conduct and, once finalised, the Code of Ethics and Conduct for NSW government sector employees.

The statement of protocols should be updated regularly.

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

Employees need to be aware that, although theyare under the direction of the Secretary or agencyhead, they have a clear duty to respond promptlyand professionally to Ministers’ requests for adviceor information in ways that are consistent with therelevant policies or procedures of the agency. Publicservants cannot be directed by ministerial staff, butthey must work professionally and cooperatively withthem. Where an employee cannot resolve an issue thatarises in their dealings with the Minister’s office, itshould be promptly referred either to the Secretary oragency head, or to the relevant senior manager.

The importance of employees keeping their Secretaries,agency heads and senior managers informed and upto date, and of maintaining good records, cannot beoveremphasised. Protocols which clarify appropriateauthorisation and sign-off before fulfilling requests forinformation, advice or action will reduce confusion andimprove quality.

Careful selection and briefing of DLOs will helppromote good relations with Ministers’ offices.Maintaining close contact with DLOs through regularmeetings; ensuring they are kept up to date ondevelopments in their home Department/agency; androtating them will also assist.