Caretaker period: What it means for your engagement with government

Cannings Purple 3 Feb 2021
3 mins

With January now behind us, the WA State election is squarely in view. As candidates from all political persuasions prepare for the final push towards the March 13 finish line, executive government is gearing up for a different shift – the transition into caretaker mode.

What is caretaker?

Caretaker government starts when the parliament is dissolved and lasts until the election result is clear. During this period, the government is bound by a number of conventions to uphold responsible government. In particular, these rules govern some key aspects of our government.

One eye on the horizon

Key contracts and commitments, as well as major policy decision are deferred during caretaker. This prevents the incoming government being bound by the commitments of its predecessors.

While the public sector is unable to make major decisions, routine matters can continue to be actioned to keep the wheels of government and industry in motion.

Moreover, Cabinet does not typically meet during caretaker due to the aversion from making major decisions. The exception to this rule, however, would be the convening of the Security and Emergency Committees within Cabinet to manage the response to a COVID-19 public health emergency, like we are currently experiencing.

You blocked me on Facebook…

Communications from the public sector is conventionally non-partisan when the caretaker period imposed. As a result, government departments are prohibited from highlighting their achievements or spruiking government policy across all communication channels, including face-to-face and online.

For senior public servants, this means their invitations to speak at public events must be politely declined to avoid potential suggestions of political commentary.

Moreover, social media and other web platforms are encouraged to remain largely stagnant.

Deadline day

Any legislation which has not passed both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council lapses when caretaker begins. This is a result of parliament being dissolved.

Bills which have passed both Houses and have not received royal ascent can still be signed off by the Governor while the government is in caretaker.

Where does this leave my engagement with government?

We call our Government Relations Consultant, David Mano, to find out more about what the caretaker period means.

Government engagement should not cease but instead take a different shape.

Public servants tend to be very cautious in accepting meetings during caretaker and will limit discussions to factual issues and matters of administration, expressly avoiding public explanation or promotion of policies. However, you can still use the time to build a relationship, to understand the role and function of agencies and requirements. While the public service won’t be able to commit to much during discussions, they will value the engagement.

And given the largely separate operations of public service roles and ministerial offices, it’s a fair bet that any public servant contacts you can make now will still be around in some capacity in the future.

Interacting with key sitting members and emerging candidates relevant to your business is also vital during caretaker. Campaign fundraisers are valuable opportunities for a friendly and informal introduction to either kick-start or nurture a relationship.

While caretaker conventions may prevent politicians from addressing your issues right now, investing in a ticket for a fundraising event and meeting them can put you and your business on the radar for the future.

This is also time to identify your strategic priorities and stay across the issues and funding commitments that are on the agenda of major parties and candidates relevant to you.

When you get the chance to meet members and candidates – whether it be on the hustings or at fundraising events – take the opportunity not only to introduce yourself and your business, but to make it clear you understand who they are and what’s important to them.

It could be the beginning of an important relationship.


David Mano is a Consultant in Cannings Purple’s Government Relations team.

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