The post-election period

The caretaker convention principles

After the election, the caretaker convention applies until the new government is appointed. During this time, all government agencies must apply the caretaker convention principles.

Read more about the caretaker convention.

When the caretaker convention applies

The caretaker convention applies in two situations:

  • in the post-election period before a new government is appointed
  • at any time when the Government has lost the confidence of the House, but it is necessary for the Government to remain in office on an interim basis.

While the incumbent government is still the lawful executive authority with all the powers and responsibilities that go with executive office, governments have traditionally constrained their actions when the caretaker convention applies. How much constraint and what processes to follow depends upon whether or not it is clear who will form the next government, and when.

  • If it is clear who will form the next government, but Ministers have not yet been appointed: The outgoing government should avoid new policy initiatives and must act on the advice of the incoming government on any matter of significance, even if it disagrees.
  • If it is not clear who will form the next government: In general terms, the normal government business continues but any significant decision-making should be deferred if possible, until the political situation is resolved. If a deferral is not possible, the matter should be handled by way of a temporary or holding arrangement that does not commit the government in the longer term. If neither deferral nor temporary arrangements are possible, a decision should be made only after consultation with other political parties, to establish whether the proposed action has the support of a majority of the House.

The application of the convention to the State sector

The statutory provisions that govern decision-making in Crown entities, state-owned enterprises and other State sector agencies may impose different obligations to those that apply to the State services. However, it is expected that during the caretaker period, all State sector agencies will discuss any issues that have caretaker convention implications with their Minister, and will apply the principles of the caretaker convention to decision-making as far as possible, taking into account their legal obligations, and statutory functions and duties.

Seeking advice on the caretaker convention

Because there are no hard and fast rules in the post-election period, Ministers and State servants must exercise careful judgement when making decisions.

Ultimately, the Prime Minister determines how a matter should be dealt with during this period. The Prime Minister must also be consulted on all issues that may require consultation with other political parties.

The Secretary of the Cabinet will issue guidance about the application of the caretaker convention following the election, and can provide advice to Ministers and agencies about applying the caretaker convention.

Forming a government

Forming a government is political and is negotiated by politicians. Typically, two or more political parties may negotiate coalition or support agreements so that a government can be formed.

State servants are not directly involved in political party negotiations.

During negotiations, political parties may ask for information from the State sector. The Prime Minister authorises these requests to agencies during this period. The State Services Commissioner administers the process and is the facilitator and contact between political parties and State sector agencies.

The political parties must make their government formation intentions clear through appropriate public announcements. The Governor-General must ascertain where the confidence of the House lies, based on the parties’ public statements, so that a Prime Minister and government can be appointed in accordance with the principles and processes set out in paragraphs 6.41 to 6.47 of the Cabinet Manual.

Read about government formation in the Cabinet Manual.

The Clerk of the Executive Council provides impartial support to the Governor-General and liaises with party leaders as required.

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