10 April 2015

This year’s General Election guidance published for the UK  civil service contains a page expressly for special advisers – the British equivalent of  Ministerial Advisers. The guidance highlights how different special advisers are from “ordinary” civil servants . Their special character relates to the acceptability of involvement in party political activities which would be quite unacceptable under the political neutrality obligations of other civil servants.

If special advisers wish to help in the election campaign they must first resign, distancing themselves from all connections with departmental resources and information. The appointment of those who remain in office supporting Ministers through the purdah period, will automatically terminate on the day after the election.  They may then be reappointed if their Minister is returned to Government. However they are not permitted to engage in election related duties.

There seems to be a tolerance in New Zealand for Ministerial Advisers supporting their Ministers at election time. They remain on their Minister’s staff until the Minister loses the warrant – either by resignation as a consequence of the election result or the Prime Minister assigning their portfolio elsewhere. That is one of the events on which their events based contracts is predicated. Although, in theory, still subject to the same political neutrality obligations as other departmental staff under the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services, amendments in 2013 to the State Sector Act anticipated the Ministerial adviser role becoming more openly partisan.