Caretaker begins Tuesday for Victorian public servants

By David Donaldson

October 30, 2018

Caretaker period for Victorian public servants will begin on Tuesday, October 30 at 6pm.

The state election is just under one month away, and will be held on November 24.

Once the caretaker period commences, the VPS is required to continue to administer the government’s policies in their current form, and should not attempt to pre-empt the outcome of an election or modify its administration of government policy.

The key objectives of the caretaker conventions are to:

  • Preserve the autonomy of an incoming government (in the event that the incumbent government is not returned);
  • Ensure the state’s resources are used appropriately and not to the unfair advantage of the incumbent government;
  • Protect the political neutrality of the Victorian Public Service.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet has prepared a set of caretaker guidelines to assist ministers, public servants and non-government parties understand their roles and responsibilities during the caretaker period.

Or if you’re really keen, there’s the 50-minute presentation available above, which includes two hypothetical examples of how to respond to requests from ministers.

Information and assistance on the caretaker period and the guidelines can be directed to DPC’s Office of the General Counsel by emailing or phoning 9651 5514.

For all the conventions, whether decision is ‘major’ is a matter for judgement, taking into account the significance of the resources, value or seniority and whether the decision is a matter of contention between the government and opposition in the election campaign. But if circumstances require a major decision, despite caretaker period, the VPS should only engage in consultation with the opposition on the instruction of their minister.

1. Avoiding major policy decisions

This convention applies to the timing of the implementation of major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government, not to their announcement. As such, the convention is not infringed where major policy decisions implemented before the expiry or dissolution of the Assembly are announced during the caretaker period. Nor does it apply to campaign announcements.

2. Avoiding significant appointments

This convention applies even to prior decisions, if the appointment is due to commence during or after the caretaker period. In these situations, the decision to appoint should be made by the incoming government. An acting or short term appointment is preferable if deferring is impractical or inhibits the proper function of a government agency.

3. Avoiding entering major contracts or undertakings

Where contracts have been entered into prior to the caretaker period, further agreements can be entered into during that period if relating to matters already proceeding, or if penalties may be incurred for breach if further agreements are not entered into.

4. Managing intergovernmental negotiations and visits

The other parties to negotiations may not be familiar with the concept of caretaker conventions and the government may need to explain the constraints they impose, and limits its role to information only. However, if the government must participate fully, then advise the other parties that any outcomes will need to be authorised by the incoming government/

5. Maintaining an apolitical VPS

This convention is not just about being apolitical, but also seen to be apolitical. The VPS should continue to perform its ordinary and routine functions during the caretaker period. However, some activities acceptably performed by the VPS at other times may be, or be seen to be, controversial or political in the context of an election. Agencies should assess whether any of their ordinary functions, such as distributing information about government policies and developing policies, may need to be performed differently during the caretaker period.

DPC’s convention guidance also contains extensive examples of which advertising and website communication is appropriate during caretaker period, including which existing advertising or websites may need to be withdrawn.

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