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Home | Divisions | Executive Division | Caretaker conventions | Introduction

Introduction

By convention, during the period preceding an election for the House of Assembly, the government assumes a ‘caretaker role’. This practice recognises that, with the dissolution of the House, the Executive cannot be held accountable for its decisions in the normal manner, and that every State election carries the possibility of a change of government.

The caretaker period begins at the time the House of Assembly is dissolved and continues until the election result is clear or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed.

During the caretaker period, the business of government continues and ordinary matters of administration still need to be addressed. The role of government agencies remains unchanged, the provision of all normal services should continue and statutory responsibilities are not affected.

However, successive governments have followed a set of practices, known as the ‘caretaker conventions’, which aim to ensure that their actions do not inappropriately bind an incoming government and limit its freedom of action.

While government business continues, as it applies to ordinary matters of administration, the caretaker conventions do affect some aspects of Executive government. In summary, the conventions are that the government avoids:

  • making major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government;
  • making significant appointments; and
  • entering major contracts or undertakings.

There are also established conventions and practices associated with the caretaker conventions that are directed at protecting the apolitical nature of the state service, preventing controversies about the role and work of the State Service during an election campaign, and avoiding the use of State Government resources in a manner to advantage a particular party.

The conventions and practices have developed primarily in the context of the relationship between Ministers and their portfolio departments. The relationship between Ministers and other bodies, such as statutory authorities, government business enterprises and State-owned companies, varies from body to body. However, those bodies should also observe caretaker conventions and practices unless to do so would conflict with their legal obligations or compelling organisational requirements.

The following notes are intended to explain the conventions and practices in more detail and to provide guidance for the handling of business during the caretaker period. The conventions are neither legally binding nor hard and fast rules. Their application in individual cases requires judgement and common sense.

The Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet is able to provide information and advice to agencies, but responsibility for observing the conventions ultimately rests with heads of agency and, in matters where they are involved, with the relevant Ministers.


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