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By W. C. Watt

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The Blair government rejected the call for separate legislation, but accepted the need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of special advisers and to provide annual reports to parliament about their activities and cost. 7 Paradoxically, despite the existence of separate legislation, and their vastly greater numbers, Australian ministerial staff are subject to far weaker regulatory arrangements than apply to their British counterparts. The geographic isolation of ministers and their staff from portfolio departments and agencies is a third distinguishing characteristic of Australian staffing arrangements.

In theory, advisers are constrained by their dependent status, and the precariousness of their employment situation, which depends on the strength of their relationship with their minister. Ministerial staff are bound by none of the arrangements that govern the conduct of other core executive actors. They are not subject to any equivalent of the code of conduct for public servants under the Australian Public Service Act 1999 (Cth) (Holland 2002a, p 18; McKeown 2004). Their actions are not reported in departmental annual reports, and they are not subject to audits or other forms of public scrutiny.

However current arrangements assume they exercise no independent authority or influence. i33 33 19/4/07 3:30:55 PM 34 Power without responsibility Responsibility. Section 9, entitled ‘Ministerial staff conduct’, directs that ministers will be responsible for the conduct of their staff, including consultants. It suggests that because ministerial staff take action on behalf of the minister, they are subject to similar rules of conduct as ministers. The guidelines for ministerial staff are focused mainly on conflict of interest and financial issues such as share ownership.

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