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Introduction

What is the ‘caretaker period’?

The period between the dissolution or expiration of the House of Assembly and the appointment of a new Government is known as the ‘caretaker period’.

By convention, during the period preceding a general election for the House of Assembly, the Government assumes a ‘caretaker role’.

The caretaker period recognises that:

  • with the expiration or dissolution of the House of Assembly, Executive Government cannot be held accountable to Parliament for its decisions in the normal manner; and
  • every general election carries the possibility of a change of government.
    1. In general terms, the caretaker period begins at the time the House of Assembly is dissolved or expires and continues if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed.

Notification of caretaker period and conventions

At the time of the dissolution or expiry of the House of Assembly, the Premier will write to Ministers advising them of their role as the caretaker government and providing them with a copy of these Guidelines.

The Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, will write to all Tasmanian Heads of Agencies advising them of the commencement of the caretaker period and that the caretaker conventions are to apply to all agency activities. A letter will also be sent to all Government Business Enterprises and State Owned Companies advising them of their obligations during the caretaker period.

At the conclusion of the caretaker period, the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, will write to all Tasmanian Heads of Agencies, Government Business Enterprises, and State Owned Companies, advising them that the caretaker conventions no longer apply.

The ‘caretaker conventions’

During the caretaker period, the business of government continues and ordinary matters of administration continue. The role of government agencies remains unchanged; the provision of all normal services should continue and statutory responsibilities are not affected.

Successive governments have followed a set of practices, known as the ‘caretaker conventions’, which aim to ensure that their actions do not inappropriately bind an incoming government and limit its freedom of action.

While government business continues, as it applies to ordinary matters of administration, the caretaker conventions do affect some aspects of Executive Government. In summary, the conventions are that the Government avoids:

  • making major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government or limit its freedom to act;
  • making or renewing significant appointments; and
  • entering into major contracts or agreements.

There are also established conventions and practices associated with the caretaker conventions that are directed at:

  • protecting the apolitical nature of the State Service[1];
  • preventing controversies about the role and work of the State Service during an election campaign; and
  • avoiding the use of government resources in a manner to advantage a particular party.

    These Guidelines are intended to explain the conventions and practices in more detail and to provide guidance for the handling of business during the caretaker period. The conventions are neither legally binding nor hard and fast rules. Their application in individual cases requires sound judgement and common sense.The Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet is able to provide information and advice to agencies, but responsibility for observing the conventions rests with Heads of Agencies and, in matters where they are involved, with the relevant Ministers.

  • Application of the Guidelines

    The Guidelines in this document apply to all Tasmanian Government Ministers, Ministerial staff and all employees and officers of Tasmanian State Service agencies[2].

    The relationship between Ministers and bodies that are not agencies under the State Service Act 2000, such as, Government Business Enterprises and State Owned Companies, varies from body to body. However, those bodies should observe the caretaker conventions and practices unless doing so would conflict with their legal obligations or compelling commercial/organisational requirements. The Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, will write to the heads of these bodies advising them of the guidelines and the commencement of the caretaker period and that the caretaker conventions apply to their organisation.

    Enquiries and Contacts

    To ensure consistent application of the Guidelines, agencies should appoint a senior officer to be the initial contact for caretaker enquiries.

    Enquiries about the application of caretaker conventions should be directed, in the first instance, to appointed contact officers within agencies.

    If further advice is required in relation to particular issues that arise during the caretaker period, queries should be directed to the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, by email at kim.enkelaar@dpac.tas.gov.au.