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Code of conduct needed for ministerial staff

MEDIA RELEASE
18 November 2008


Code of conduct needed for ministerial staff

The incoming National-led Government needs to put in place a code of conduct for nondepartmental staff employed in Ministers’ offices, according to researchers from Massey and Victoria universities.

Massey University’s Dr Richard Shaw and Senior Lecturer of Victoria University’s School of Government, Dr Chris Eichbaum, have carried out research on the relationship between ministerial staff and the public service in New Zealand and abroad.

“In Opposition the National Party quite correctly raised concerns regarding what they saw as the risk of politicising New Zealand’s politically neutral and expert public service. The public service has a duty of service to the government of the day, and any government will expect the public service to be appropriately responsive given the nature of its electoral mandate. But the public service also has a responsibility to provide a government with the advice that it needs to hear, not just advice that it may want to hear—this is a fundamental element of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements,” says Dr Shaw.

Recent governments across the political spectrum have employed staff in political and policy roles within ministerial offices, as well as those employed in press and communications roles.

These staff are not part of the permanent public service, and are typically employed on fixedterm contracts tied to the tenure of their Minister.

“There will be a significant number of new ministerial staff, many of whom will have no experience of working within government, and quite possibly little understanding of the rules and conventions, including ethical standards, guiding interactions between ministerial offices and the public service. The incoming government should ensure that all staff participate in formal induction processes providing clear advice and guidance on these rules and conventions,” says Dr Eichbaum.

Researchers say codes of conduct for these staff members exist in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“A code should clarify the role of ministerial staff and, among other matters, outline the requirements regarding relationships with the public service, and the requirement to ensure that there are no constraints on the capacity of the public service to provide the government of the day with advice that is free, frank and comprehensive. The code should also provide an opportunity for breaches to be raised, as appropriate with departmental Chief Executives, Ministers, and/or the Prime Minister,” says Dr Eichbaum.

Dr Shaw says that ministerial staff have made an important contribution to the policy process and governance in the past—particularly since the advent of the MMP electoral system and multiparty government. “There is the potential for this to continue, but the opportunity presented by the change of government should now be taken in order to institute robust and transparent induction and accountability mechanisms for political appointments."

Attached to this media release is the code of conduct for ministerial staff in Australia.


ENDS


Australian Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff

The importance of the role of Ministerial staff in providing advice and assistance to Ministers in the performance of their functions is well recognised and accepted. Their closeness to the most significant decisions of government is a privilege that carries with it an obligation to act at all times with integrity and awareness of the expectation of the Australian community that the highest standards of conduct will be observed. The Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff sets out the standards that Ministerial staff are expected to meet in the performance of their duties.

Ministerial staff employed under Part II and Part III of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOP(S) Act), and Ministers’ electorate officers employed under Part IV of the MOP(S) Act must:

1. Behave honestly and with integrity in the course of their employment.

2. Act with care and diligence in the performance of their duties.

3. Disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interests (real or apparent) in connection with their employment, noting that staff are required to provide their employer with a statement of private interests.

4. Divest themselves, or relinquish control, of interests in any private company or business and/or direct interest in any public company involved in the area of their Ministers’ portfolio responsibilities.

5. Staff must declare to their employing Minister in writing, within a reasonable time, all hospitality, gifts and sponsored travel received in association with their employment.

6. Have no involvement in outside employment or in the daily work of any business, or retain a directorship of a company, without the written agreement of their Minister.

7. Treat with respect and courtesy all those with whom they have contact in the course of their employment.

8. Make themselves aware of the Values and Code of Conduct which bind Australian Public Service (APS) and Parliamentary Service employees.

9. When travelling overseas on official business, behave in a manner consistent with the APS Values and Code of Conduct, to the extent they apply to officials on duty overseas.

10. Not knowingly or intentionally encourage or induce a public official by their decisions, directions or conduct to breach the law or parliamentary obligations or fail to comply with an applicable code of ethical conduct.

11. Acknowledge that ministerial staff do not have the power to direct APS employees in their own right and that APS employees are not subject to their direction.

12. Recognise that executive decisions are the preserve of Ministers and public servants and not ministerial staff acting in their own right.

13. Facilitate direct and effective communication between their Minister’s department and their Minister.

14. Use Commonwealth resources for the effective conduct of public business in a proper manner. Commonwealth resources are not to be subject to wasteful or extravagant use, and due economy is to be observed at all times. Ministerial staff must be scrupulous in ensuring the legitimacy and accuracy of any claim for entitlements.

15. Maintain appropriate confidentiality about their dealings with their Minister, other Ministers, other Ministerial staff, and APS and Parliamentary Service employees.

16. Not knowingly or intentionally provide false or misleading information in response to a request for information that is made for official purposes in connection with their employment.

17. Not make improper use of their position or access to information to gain or seek to gain a benefit or advantage for themselves or any other person.

18. Comply with any authorised and reasonable direction received in the course of their employment.

19. Comply with all applicable Australian laws.

20. Comply with all applicable codes of conduct, including the Lobbying Code of Conduct.

21. Familiarise themselves with this code of conduct upon the commencement of their employment.

NOTES:

i. References to Ministers and Ministerial staff include Parliamentary Secretaries and their staff

ii. Electorate officers for Ministers are covered by the Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct in recognition of the role they play assisting Ministers to perform their duties

iii. For the purposes of this Code, “Australian laws” means any Act, including the MOP(S) Act, or any instrument made under an Act, or any law of a State or Territory, including any instrument made under such a law

iv. Implementation of this Code is the responsibility of the Prime Minister's Office and the Government Staffing Committee

v. Any sanctions imposed under this Code will be determined after consultation with the relevant Minister by the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister, acting on advice from the Government Staffing Committee

(See also http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/propriety_and_ethics/special_advisers/code/code.aspx regarding United Kingdom Code of Conduct)

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