Good Practices for engagement with Ministers’ offices

“The principle of frank and fearless advice is an importanttenet of the Westminster system of government. It requirespublic officials to give advice that is forthright, non-partisanand does not gloss over possible negative outcomes.”i

The purpose of such advice is not to limit the Ministerto the Department’s or agency’s recommended position,or to anticipate ‘what the Minister wishes to hear’, but,rather, to advise, with transparency and accountability,on the full range of evidence-based, lawful options andto provide the information necessary for the Minister tomake an informed decision.

It is entirely proper – and, indeed, expected – that theDepartment or agency will recommend one option overthe others, after outlining the pros and cons of each. TheMinister may accept the recommended option, or reject it and choose another, subject to any legislativeconstraints. Further or more detailed advice from theDepartment or agency may also be requested to assistthe Minister’s decision-making.

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

When advice or information has been considered and alawful decision made by the Minister or Cabinet, it is theresponsibility of the agency to implement that decisiondiligently and professionally.

The following good practices are intended to assistDepartments and agencies to resolve some issues that mayarise during their engagement with Ministers’ offices.

i) Independent Commission Against Corruption, Reducing theopportunities for corruption in the state’s management of coalresources, October 2013 (www.icac.nsw.gov.au/component/docman/doc_download/4209-reducing-the-opportunities-and-incentives-forcorruption-in-the-states-management-of-coal-resources-oct-2013)