6 October 2014

The election is over, the risks of offending impartiality obligations are diminishing,  IntegrityTalking Points needs hibernate no more.

The election period is when State Servants should pay particular attention to political neutrality responsibilities. That is the essence of the guidance for State Servants published each election year.

The election period runs from the start of the ‘pre election period’ and runs out when Ministers of the new Government are sworn in.  In some scenarios, Election day may be only the mid point of the election period. The guidance covering post election factors  – caretaker government principles, negotiations to form a government, and briefing a new Minister – has particular pertinence where there is uncertainty about the new administration.

The guidance anticipates political drama extending beyond Election day as a single party majority is an improbable outcome of the New Zealand MMP process.  But with the improbable being the outcome of this year’s election night count, there has been no mystique about government formation. Rather than information being released under a complex process to support covert negotiations, the Prime Minister of the caretaker government – as the leader of the party with the majority of the party vote – openly indicated his intentions.

As no other coalition permutations were capable of producing a majority, there was no call for the guidance about constraints on a caretaker government.

With the announcement this week of the Executive Council and the swearing in of Ministers, the only continuing relevance of the election guidance is the prescription for the preparing of Briefings for Incoming Ministers.  Knowing who their Ministers will be, agencies will be able to prepare their briefing material to reflect those Ministers’ needs.  After previous elections, a number of agencies have been been challenged to limit their briefings to the prescribed material.

“The briefing is for an incoming Minister only, and should be written accordingly.

It is essential that agencies take account of the Minister’s prior knowledge, and the Government’s priorities including the content of coalition or support agreements.  Within the briefing, agencies should also think about how they are going to engage with the Minister over the term of the Government, and set the scene for this.

The briefing is confidential to the Minister.  Recent practice has been for the BIM or initial briefing to be released publicly by the Minister. This should not be assumed…..

The purpose of the initial briefing is to give new Ministers sufficient information to meet their initial requirements, but is not intended to be a detailed analysis of the portfolio or of policy issues.  The briefing is part of a wider process: Ministers will be able to call for a fuller briefing on issues of interest and importance to them during that process.  This allows the initial briefing to be wide ranging, enabling the Minister to see the breadth of the portfolio, while still being concise…..

Departments should not provide incoming Ministers with a briefing until Ministers are sworn in….

The initial briefing should be short, reflecting the time pressures on the incoming Minister.  A briefing should normally be between five and 50 pages in length, depending on the size and complexity of the department.

The amount of detail included in a briefing will vary depending on whether the Minister concerned has had any prior involvement with the portfolio, and whether there has been a change of Government…”

As no electorates have returned a Member with a majority prone to challenge, it is unlikely that there will be applications for a recount. The planned return of the Writ to the Clerk of the House will occur on Thursday when the election result will be published by Gazette Notice.  Then it is back to business as usual for the State Services.

www.ssc.govt.nz/election-guidance

www.ssc.govt.nz/node/9211
http://www.dpmc.govt.nz/sites/all/files/circulars/co_14_7_government_formation_-_next_steps.pdf

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