The public sector supports the government of the day in serving the Victorian community. This is done by:

  • providing public services
  • supporting Ministers in developing and implementing policies and legislation
  • building and maintaining physical and social infrastructure
  • managing assets and resources
  • funding and monitoring outsourced service providers
  • administering state finances.

The Public Administration Act establishes the legislative framework for good governance in the Victorian public sector. Public sector employees, including departmental secretaries, serve the government of the day and are required to remain apolitical. They must act in accordance with the public sector values specified in section 7 of the Public Administration Act that are further defined in the Code of Conduct for Victorian Public Sector Employees issued by the Victorian Public Sector Commission. As such, they must

  • responsiveness
  • integrity
  • impartiality
  • accountability
  • respect
  • leadership
  • and promote the human rights set out in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

In other jurisdictions, ministerial officers are also required to act in accordance with codes of conduct. For example, the Queensland Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff Members (PDF)  (PDF) includes provisions that specifically recognise the respective roles of ministerial staff and public service employees.

Victorian Public Service

The public service consists of persons employed under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act. It includes public service bodies (such as departments, administrative offices and the Victorian Public Sector Commission), as well as public entities and special bodies that employ staff under Part 3. The public service provides policy advice to Ministers and implements government policy. It is responsible for the delivery of government services and programs, and for delivering the Government’s legislative and regulatory agendas.

Policy advice provided by public service employees is not the same as policy advice provided by ministerial officers. Public service employees provide impartial advice; ministerial officers, on the other hand, can provide advice that has a political context, and are able to do so as they are not public service employees.


Departments are policy advisers and program administrators for Ministers and the Government. In Victoria, each department advises and supports specific Ministers and their ministerial portfolios. Departments are the means through which government policy is implemented, and they can be thought of as an administrative extension of the Minister. Departments are part of the executive and do not have separate legal identity.

Departments are staffed by public service employees employed by the secretary under Part 3 of the Public Administration Act. The secretary makes independent employment decisions based on merit. The decisions are not subject to a Minister’s general power of direction.

The terms ‘central agency’ and ‘line department’ are used to describe the functions of departments. A central agency has whole of government policy responsibilities. In Victoria, the central agencies are the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF). A line department, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for portfolio specific policy development, planning and delivery of services.

The department, via the secretary, is the minister’s principal source of advice and support on the operations of his or her portfolio. As part of this role, departments often:

  • work with and provide guidance to public entities on public administration and governance
  • assist with liaison between public entities and their Ministers, and between public entities and central agencies (DTF and DPC)
  • advise Ministers on board appointments
  • alert Ministers to significant developments and provide advice on options for action
  • assist Ministers in accounting to Parliament for the actions and performance of public entities.


Each department is headed by a secretary, who is employed by the Premier. The secretary is responsible to their Minister for the operations of the department and for advice on all operational matters relating to the department, administrative offices and public entities. Each secretary reports to specific Ministers. Departments are staffed by public service employees employed by the secretary.

Secretaries are the principal portfolio advisers to the Government. They provide advice on policy matters and assist Ministers to maintain an awareness of operations within their portfolios, often acting as the primary contact between Ministers, public entities and stakeholders.

Secretaries’ responsibilities include:

  • keeping Ministers informed of significant issues within the portfolio
  • playing a leadership role in developing major policy initiatives
  • overseeing the development of policy solutions
  • maintaining an awareness of the social and political landscape
  • facilitating and supporting relationships between Ministers and portfolio agencies
  • supporting Ministers to manage relationships with portfolio stakeholders
  • overseeing the efficient and effective delivery of government policies, services and programs
  • undertaking formal negotiations and building relationships between their department, the commonwealth and other states and territories on portfolio related matters.

As head of department, secretaries have primary accountability for adapting programs and activities to align with the Government’s direction and ensuring the department responds to the ways in which the Government seeks to develop and implement its policies and programs.

Secretaries are subject to lawful direction from Ministers but not from ministerial officers. The secretary in turn has authority to direct departmental employees.

Departmental Liaison Officers

Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) are employed by departments to assist Ministers and their offices with departmental liaison and administrative functions. As DLOs are public service employees and not ministerial officers, they must avoid assisting Ministers in ways that are or could be perceived to be politically partisan.

DLOs’ responsibilities may include:

  • assisting with the administration of the Minister’s office
  • assisting the Minister, the Minister’s office and the secretary with correspondence
  • coordinating briefings
  • coordinating cabinet and parliamentary papers within the Minister’s office
  • channelling information between the Minister’s office and the department
  • overseeing the work of other departmental employees within the Minister’s office (for example, administrative support staff).

Administrative Offices

Administrative offices are public service bodies established in relation to a department by the Governor‑in-Council under section 11 of the Public Administration Act. Administrative offices are similar to departments in that they are led by a public service body head who is employed by the Premier, employ their own staff under Part 3 of the Act, and perform activities under the direction and control of Ministers. The heads of administrative offices are responsible to the secretary for the general conduct and the effective, efficient and economical management of the administrative office. In some cases, legislation confers certain responsibilities and powers to administrative office heads for which they are directly accountable to the Minister.

Staff who work in an administrative office are public service employees. Examples of administrative offices include the Office of the Governor, the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office.

Public Entities

Public entities are organisations that exercise a public function. They can be established in a variety of legal forms, including statutory authorities and non-statutory advisory bodies, to undertake a wide range of advisory, service delivery, regulatory and other functions. Victoria’s public entities include employing bodies such as hospitals, schools, technical and further education institutions, emergency service organisations, and water and land management bodies. Also included are many public entities that do not employ staff, including ministerial advisory committees, most cemetery trusts and most crown land committees of management.

Typically, public entities have a board appointed by either the Minister or by the Governor in Council on the Minister’s recommendation. The degree of ministerial control varies between public entities. The Minister’s powers to direct a public entity are usually identified in enabling or umbrella legislation, or in the case of non-statutory entities, terms of reference. The board appoints a chief executive officer to manage the operations of the public entity, including employment arrangements. However, there are instances where the Government appoints an individual to govern and operate a public entity (for example, a commissioner).

The Public Administration Act specifies that the board of a public entity is accountable to the Minister for the exercise of its functions. It also specifies that the Minister is responsible to Parliament for the exercise of ministerial powers relating to public entities to:

  • appoint and remove directors
  • give directions and request information
  • control or affect operations
  • initiate a review of management systems, structures or processes.

Governance principles laid out in Part 5 of the Public Administration Act apply to public entities established on or after the Act commenced in 2005, or for which an Order has been made that these provisions apply.

The department is the principal source of advice to the Minister on public entities, including high level policy issues, strategic planning and significant proposals. The department assists the Minister in accounting to Parliament for the actions and performance of a public entity. The public entity, usually through its board chair, may also give advice to the Minister. A ministerial officer will need to be familiar with the protocols that the public entity and the department have established with the Minister.