By convention, when the writs for an election are issued, the government assumes a 'caretaker' role and should avoid making decisions that would limit the freedom of action of an incoming government. The public sector must also adopt a number of administrative practices to safeguard its neutrality during this time.
The caretaker period
The caretaker period begins when the writs for the election are issued. In accordance with the Constitution Act 1934, the writs for the next general election will be issued on 17 February 2018, with the election held on 17 March.
The caretaker period ends when it becomes clear that the current government has been re-elected or when a new government is sworn in.
Government during the caretaker period
Ministers continue in office during the caretaker period, and the day-to-day business of government continues. However, the government is expected to adhere to the caretaker conventions.
The caretaker conventions
During the caretaker period, it is expected that the government will generally:
- Avoid major policy decisions that would bind an incoming government
- Avoid making significant appointments
- Avoid entering into major contracts or undertakings.
The conventions apply to decisions, not to announcements. The party in government is free to make election announcements during the caretaker period.
During the caretaker period, it is important that the public sector remain impartial and that public resources not be used to advantage any political party. Public sector employees therefore need to be cautious in any dealings with ministers and Members of Parliament and ensure that resources are not used in a partisan way. Agencies should also review their advertising and communications material to ensure it does not promote the party in government.
The guide to caretaker conventions and pre-election practices provides more detail on the conventions and their practical application.