Caretaker conventions: a primer

by David Everton, Director, Government Relations

Published on
October 4, 2017

With an election to occur sometime in the next eight months, when it does, the government will enter ‘caretaker mode’ until the election result is clear or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed.

Caretaker mode recognises that, with the dissolution of Parliament, the Executive cannot be held accountable for its decisions in the normal manner, and that with every election, there is the possibility of a change of government.

How it works

  1. The Premier chooses the timing in which to have an election
  2. The Premier advises the Governor to dissolve Parliament
  3. The Governor must accept the Premier’s advice, and issue a Proclamation to that effect
  4. A special sitting of the Executive Council (the Ministry and Cabinet) will be convened immediately afterwards, where the Governor will be advised to issue the Writ for a general election of the Legislative Assembly
  5. By convention, the government now enters ‘caretaker mode’ until the election result is clear or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed

What are the caretaker conventions?

The caretaker conventions are set out in the Queensland Cabinet Handbook.

In its caretaker role, the government will ensure that decisions are not taken which would bind an incoming government and limit its freedom of action.

The conventions are more of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ as adherence to the conventions have no formal legal standing.

In doing so, the government will, during the caretaker period, avoid:

  • implementing major policy initiatives
  • making appointments of significance
  • entering into major contracts or undertakings.

What do the caretaker conventions mean for major policy decisions?

Governments should avoid making major policy decisions during the caretaker period that are likely to commit an incoming government.

In considering this convention, the government should assess the significance of the decision in terms of policy and resources, but also whether the decision is a matter of contention between the Government and Opposition in the election campaign. This convention does not preclude parties creating new policies as part of the election campaign.

What do the caretaker conventions mean for large projects?

Government and the normal business of departments continues during the caretaker period. Project approvals required from a department may be issued during the caretaker period.

However, major project approvals within government programs are normally deferred by Ministers.

Should a major project’s approval be required due to a particular urgency, government may seek bipartisan support from the appropriate Shadow Minister and/or Leader of the Opposition.

What do the caretaker conventions mean for major contracts with the Queensland government?

The general rule during the caretaker period is that the normal business of government continues until the incoming government’s wishes are known. Several aspects of a department’s usual activities are, however, affected.

While departments are concerned at all times to avoid partisanship, the circumstances of an election campaign require special attention to the need to ensure the impartiality of the Public Service and its ability to serve whatever government is elected.

What do the caretaker conventions mean for communication with State government departments and Ministers?

As the normal business of government continues during the caretaker period, communication with government departments can continue.

It is desirable that judgement be used in determining whether correspondence of significance should be signed in this period by the Minister or by the Chief Executive Officer.

However, Ministers usually sign only necessary or routine correspondence, and are unlikely to make significant commitments in that correspondence.

During the election period, Ministers may not request the development of new policy initiatives but may request factual material from departments.

What will the dissolution of the Queensland Parliament mean for legislation?

The dissolution of the Queensland Parliament will have the following effect on legislation:

  • all Bills that have been introduced into the Queensland Parliament, but which have not been passed, automatically lapse
  • all Bills passed by the Queensland parliament, but which have not been proclaimed into force, may lapse
  • in particular circumstances, it is possible for subordinate legislation to be approved by the Governor in Council during the caretaker period.