1.1 Roles and responsibilities in the Westminster System

This guide aims to assistemployees in the NSW PublicService and certain employeesin the NSW Transport Serviceto understand the various rolesand responsibilities in theWestminster System and, as aresult, to be in a better positionto provide professional supportto Ministers.

Fundamentally, the role of NSW public servants in oursystem – the Westminster System – has not changed in150 years. It continues to be one of serving the peopleof the State by implementing the policies, decisionsand programs of the Government of the day, andproviding apolitical, non-partisan advice to Ministers.

This role is now strengthened by the Ethical frameworkfor the government sector, which enshrines a set ofcore values and principles in legislation.The Ethical Framework in Part 2 of the GovernmentSector Employment Act 2013 “recognises the role of thegovernment sector in preserving the public interest,defending public value, and adding professional qualityand value to the commitments of the Government ofthe day”.

As defined in Government Sector Employment Act2013, the NSW government sector comprises the PublicService, the Teaching Service, the NSW Police Force, theNSW Health Service, the NSW Transport Service, anyother service of the Crown, and bodies prescribed by
regulation for the purpose of the definition.

A key responsibility of Public Service employees – andTransport Service employees who provide advice totheir Minister – is to act according to the conventionsof the Westminster System.

As most government sector employees working asteachers, nurses and police officers do not adviseMinisters, the obligations of the Westminster Systemdo not arise in the course of their duties.

While the Westminster System has a number ofunchanging characteristics, it is best described asoperating within a set of parameters. From time totime, certain elements of the system may be givengreater or lesser emphasis by different governments.
As a starting point, employees should be aware that, inthe Westminster System:

  • Ministers and Cabinet decide policy, and are free either to accept, or reject, advice, options and recommendations provided by Departments and agencies
  • Although employees are under the direction of their Secretary or agency head, they have a clear duty to respond promptly and professionally to Ministers’ requests for advice or information
  • Advice to Ministers must be ‘apolitical and non-partisan’, meaning advice that is evidencebased, impartial, that places the public interest over personal interest, and is uninfluenced by party political considerations or by personal political allegiances
  • Advice to Ministers must also be ‘frank and fearless’: this means laying out all the options and dealing honestly with all the issues, including those that are difficult, complicated and problematic.