Proclamation to prorogue the Parliament, 2013
Stephen Brady the Official Secretary to the Governor-General reads out the proclamation to prorogue the Parliament along with a 19 gun salute. Photo: Melissa Adams
Around 168,000 federal public servants are clearing urgent business as they prepare to go into caretaker mode ahead of the federal election.
From Tuesday, their ministers will no longer be making decisions to bind the incoming government.
However, public servants will be busy with regular business and preparing to implement new policies, no matter which party wins the election.
The caretaker period begins late on Monday with the dissolution of the lower house of Parliament.
The proclamation to prorogue Parliament will be read at 5.29pm at the front of Parliament House by the secretary to the Governor-General, Stephen Brady.
After the Parliament is prorogued, election writs will be issued by the Governor-General Quentin Bryce in a meeting with ministers of the Federal Executive Council that will take place before 6pm.
Prime Minister and Cabinet has updated the guidelines on caretaker conventions for public servants.
It says departments should appoint one or two senior officers to be the initial contact for caretaker inquiries, to "ensure the consistent application of caretaker guidance within agencies and to minimise the number of requests for advice to PM&C".
In summary, according to the department, 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.
The executive council could hold a meeting on Monday to finalise outstanding business such as appointments or other government business that has been approved by Cabinet.
The Public Service Commission said on Monday the APS workforce was 165,598, as at December 31, 2012.
This was made up of 152,111 ongoing employees and 13,487 non-ongoing.
Just over 40 per cent of APS employees work in the ACT.
Senior public servants will be busy during the caretaker period working on briefing papers for the incoming government.
John Nethercote, adjunct professor at the Public Policy Institute of the Australian Catholic University, said three briefs would have to prepared in each department - one if the same minister took charge after the election, a second for a different minister from Labor, and a third for a Coalition minister.
He said Monday could present difficulties for some senior bureaucrats.
"For the public service the most difficult period is the 36 or 48 hours between when it becomes known there is going to be a dissolution and the election is announced, and when the parliament is prorogued and the house dissolved," he told Fairfax Media.
"That's the time when in most governments there will be a few ministers very anxious to do some serious spending.
"The public service just needs to be very acute to what is being proposed.
"Quite often it is a matter of expediting something that has been decided.
"Other times it is more questionable and the public service will either put that point of view to the minister or, if they're really unlucky, they'll have to put it to the minister's staff."
Professor Nethercote said the senior public service would not have an easy time during the caretaker period as it prepared briefs for new ministers.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wrote on Monday to the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to confirm that if the Coalition is elected, its first legislative priority would be to scrap the carbon price.
He has also written to the chairwoman of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Jillian Broadbent, to formally advise the board that the Coalition did not support the corporation or its expenditure of $10 billion of "borrowed money on projects that the private sector deems too risky to invest in".
"As the government has now entered the caretaker period, I have requested that the CEFC immediately ceases to make any further payments," Mr Abbott said.