Supporting public servants engaging with Ministers’ offices

Ministers employ staff to assist them to exercise theirpolitical office functions. Staff who are employed byMinisters are subject to the requirements of the Membersof Parliament Staff Act 2013. The Government SectorEmployment Act 2013 does not apply to Ministerial staff.

Senior public service managers, whose employeesengage with Ministerial staff, play an importantrole in ensuring their employees have the necessarycapabilities and support.

Employees must receive appropriate orientation,training and feedback, so they are clear on their roles,responsibilities and boundaries.

It is critical that employees understand that:

  • Their role is to provide frank and fearless advice, which is uninfluenced by party political considerations or personal political allegiances; impartial and free from actual, potential or reasonably perceived conflicts of interests; and based on sound evidence
  • Ministers are free either to accept, or to reject, advice, options and recommendations provided by Departments and agencies. Most training for employees engaged with a Minister’s office tends to be ‘on the job’. Sometimes employees are suddenly enlisted in critical and urgent situations.

Employees who may be called upon should beidentified and appropriately briefed on protocols forengaging with ministerial staff and the situations theymay face. Experienced employees should be invitedto share their knowledge and insights, and to mentornew colleagues.

Questions to be considered for discussion withemployees engaged with Ministers’ offices include:

Topic: Minister andMinister’s office

Questions:

  • What are the Minister’s portfolio responsibilities?
  • What are the Minister’s and Government’s broad and agency specific priorities?
  • Who are the key personnel in the Minister’s office?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of ministerial staff?
  • What is the Minister’s preferred style for briefings and correspondence?
  • What matters are handled by the Parliamentary Secretary?

Topic: Department/agency

Questions:

  • What are the key functions and objectives of the agency?
  • Does the agency report to another Minister and how is their support coordinated?
  • What is the status of programs and projects?
  • Are any new programs and projects proposed?
  • Who are the agency’s major clients and stakeholders?
  • Who are the key agency personnel and what are their responsibilities?
  • How should senior management be kept advised on matters involving the Minister’s office?
  • What are the agency’s relationships with other agencies and the Commonwealth Government?

Topic: Interaction

Questions:

  • What arrangements and protocols are in place for communication between the Minister’s office and the Department or agency?
  • What authorisations and sign-off are required for requests from the Minister’s office?
  • What recent briefings have been provided to the Minister?
  • What are the key dates for the Minister, agency and for meetings between the Minister’s office and agency?

Topic: Issues

Questions:

  • What is the status of the agency’s key programs?
  • What are the current, emerging and contentious issues and who are the responsible agency officers?
  • Are there regional or national issues affecting the agency?
  • Are there any proposed legislative changes?
  • Has the agency been in the media recently?
  • Is the agency involved in any major litigation?

Topic: Employee

Questions:

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of employees?
  • Why is the Ethical Framework important?
  • How should confidential and sensitive information be handled?
  • What should I do if I am contacted by a Member of Parliament, the Opposition spokesperson or the media?
  • Who should I contact for advice on assisting the Minister’s office?

Employees who may be required to act as advisorsin the Parliament – for example while legislationis being debated – should be given the opportunityto observe proceedings beforehand, ideally with anexperienced colleague.

Employee concerns may arise, at times, from amisunderstanding or differing expectations of their roleand boundaries. Any concerns regarding engagementwith a Minister’s office should be referred to a relevantsenior manager.

Much interaction with Ministers’ offices is spoken,particularly where urgent advice is being sought.Departments/agencies should clarify protocols forhandling requests and remind employees of the needto maintain good records of communication withMinisters’ offices. Where possible, requests fromministerial staff on behalf of the Minister should bein writing, or confirmed in a return email from theemployee to the Minister’s office.