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During the caretaker period, Executive Government continues to operate and Ministers remain in authority. Agencies continue to operate during the caretaker period, dealing with the ordinary business of government.
While agencies avoid political partisanship at all times, the circumstances of an election campaign require special attention to the need to ensure the impartiality and apolitical nature of the State Service, and its continuing ability to serve whatever government is elected.
If there is any doubt about whether agency work constitutes a ‘political matter’, the Head of Agency may seek advice from the Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet, by email at email@example.com.
Material relating to the day to day business of government is supplied to Ministers in the usual way. Ministers are entitled to request, and should continue to be provided with, factual material. The purpose to which such material is put is for Ministers to determine. However if it is clear that the information will be used for party-political purposes it should be declined.
It may be appropriate for an agency to decline a request for information if it requires the use of significant resources or is clearly for use as part of the election campaign (for example, requests for information to be used in Ministerial speeches or event briefs). If in doubt, the Head of Agency should discuss with the Minister or his/her senior staff the purpose for which the material is to be used.
In most instances, agencies should decline requests for policy advice during the caretaker period. There might, however, be urgent issues that require the provision of policy advice to Ministers to allow responsible ongoing administration or to protect the State’s interests and to enable the Government to respond appropriately in the public interest.
Requests for legal advice on issues affecting the Minister in his or her capacity as a candidate should be declined.
Agencies can proceed with policy development work during the caretaker period so that they are in a position to provide advice to the incoming government, provided that contact with Ministerial Offices is not required.
Bills that have passed both Houses of Parliament should, if practical, be assented to by the Governor before the dissolution or expiry of the House of Assembly, but may lawfully be assented to subsequently.
Legislation can be proclaimed during the caretaker period but, other than in exceptional circumstances, proclamations that have a commencement date after the date of the election are not made.
Once the caretaker period commences, Ministers will usually avoid signing non-essential correspondence.
Correspondence may be attended to by agencies in the usual way. When preparing replies, care should be taken to protect the State Service from any perception of partisanship.
Some correspondence that would ordinarily be signed by Ministers may need to be prepared for signature by the Head of Agency, rather than be left to accumulate. Judgment is necessary in determining whether significant correspondence should be signed by the Minister or the Head of Agency. Whatever the decision, the caretaker conventions apply.
Although Ministers may continue to sign correspondence, the time they have available for this during the election campaign will be limited. In any event, Ministers would usually sign only essential correspondence that is necessary for day-to-day government service delivery and administration.
The general principle is that correspondence should be answered rather than left to accumulate. In cases where no issue of policy arises, for example in relation to the preparation of replies to routine incoming correspondence, departmental replies for signature by the Head of Agency should be prepared.
Replies should not assume that the Government will or will not be returned to office. Any reference to post election action should be in terms of the ‘incoming government’. It may be appropriate in some cases to include a sentence along the lines -
“The Government is currently operating in caretaker mode. The matter you raise will be referred to the incoming government.”
Letters requiring explanation of current policy should be answered without committing a government to post election action.
To avoid confusion, and as a matter of courtesy, members of the House of Assembly who are standing for re-election should continue to be addressed as ‘MP’ until they resign. Newly elected members should be addressed as ‘MP’ as soon as they are sworn in.
Members who are not standing for re-election should not be addressed as ‘MP’ following the dissolution of the House of Assembly.
The payment of grants which were approved prior to the caretaker period can proceed but should be forwarded to the grant recipient by the relevant agency rather than by a Minister or another member of the Government.
During the caretaker period, commitments should not be made in respect of grant applications received during the period or which were lodged before commencement of the period but are awaiting decision.
Responses to outstanding Parliamentary committee reports should be taken up with the incoming government. Agencies may, however, undertake appropriate preparatory work so that they are in a position to provide early advice to the incoming government.
Reports of an administrative nature, such as annual reports, can be delivered during the caretaker period. However, where a report contains information that is likely to be controversial, consideration should be given to whether delivery should be deferred until after the caretaker period.
Agencies should seek advice from the Office of the Solicitor-General if there are statutory timeframes that need to be considered during the caretaker period.