Public
servants, pundits and punters should all be racing off to consult the Public
Service Commission manual Supporting Ministers, Upholding the Values in the breaks at the Cole inquiry. It’s got the works:

Growth in the number of Ministerial advisers
over the last 20 years across jurisdictions has in turn increased the scale of
the interaction between public servants and Ministers and their offices. It is
no longer possible to assume that informal mentoring processes will reach all
APS employees who should understand their responsibilities in conduct in these
relationships…

In 2003, the Commission for the first time
conducted a survey of APS employees as part of its preparation of the annual State of the
Service report
. That survey revealed that contact between APS
employees and Ministers and their offices was very widespread. Twenty-six per
cent of APS employees-88% of Senior Executive Service employees, 47% of
Executive Level employees and 20% of employees at the APS 1-6 levels reported
having had contact with a Minister or their office in the last two years. The
results varied between different types of agencies and the location of APS
employees, but demonstrated a far more extensive level of engagement amongst
the 130,000 APS employees than previously thought…

And make
sure you don’t miss section 1.2.4, starting on page 23 of the publication:

Ministerial staff are not directly accountable
to Parliament. The system of employing Ministerial staff under legislation that
is separate from the Public Service Act 1999 has provided Ministers with
essential support that reflects party political positions, without compromising
the apolitical role of the APS. Indeed, it can act as a buttress to the
apolitical role of the public service, by providing Ministers with a source of
advice that is explicitly political.

When the distinct roles of Ministerial and APS
staff are not acknowledged or understood, the overlap can compromise APS
employees’ duty to be apolitical and impartial, and constrain the agency’s
ability to provide good and timely advice or to implement the Government’s
policies and programmes effectively. While APS employees are responsible
through their agency heads to the Minister and cannot be directed by
Ministerial advisers, they are bound to build cooperative, professional
relationships with Ministerial advisers that do not compromise the distinct
role of the APS and the operation of the APS Values:

…in clarifying the proper relationship between
the Service and Ministerial advisers there is no doubt a relationship of trust
is essential, where the different responsibilities of the two groups are
acknowledged, along with the common commitment to serve the Minister; this is
best formed when the working arrangements between advisers and APS employees
are articulated clearly by agreement between the Minister and Agency Head;
advisers need to appreciate the legal responsibilities of APS employees to the
APS Values and Code of Conduct; they also need to appreciate the formal lines
of authority from the Minister to the Secretary, and from the Secretary to
Agency staff ; public servants similarly need to understand that close and
ongoing communication with advisers is essential, but that advisers do not have
the power to direct; all public servants need to understand that
confidentiality is critical to a relationship of trust between the Agency and
its Minister.

It’s 144
fun filled pages long. The perfect material for Easter meditations for true
believers of all political denominations.

Peter Fray

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