Policy advice provided by public service employees is not the same as policy advice provided by ministerial advisers. Public service employees provide impartial and objective advice. It is often referred to as ‘frank and fearless advice’. Ministerial advisers on the other hand, provide advice that is explicitly political. Ministerial advisers are not public service employees.

A current list of departments and administrative offices can be found in the Victorian Public Sector Commission publication, The State of the Public Sector in Victoria, and on the Register of Instruments section of the Victorian Public Sector Commission website.

Further information: www.vpsc.vic.gov.au

7.1 Portfolios

A portfolio is a Minister’s area of responsibility and includes the Acts that the Minister administers and the relevant organisations in the portfolio such as the department and public entities.

7.2 Departments

Departments are the central policy advisers and program administrators for Ministers and Government. The role and status of departments are not specified in detail in legislation or the Constitution. In Victoria, some departments advise and support a number of Ministers and ministerial portfolios.

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

The number and scope of departments will reflect the strategy and priorities of the Government of the day. The term ‘machinery of government’ refers to the allocation of functions between departments and Ministers. Departments can be created, abolished and altered by an Order in Council under the Public Administration Act 2004.

In Victoria, machinery of government matters, that is the allocation of functions between departments and Ministers, are the sole responsibility of the Premier.

7.3 Administrative Offices

Administrative offices are public service bodies that are distinct from departments, but have a reporting relationship to the departmental Secretary. The heads of administrative offices are responsible to the departmental head for the management of the office. In some cases, legislation confers certain responsibilities and powers to administrative office heads for which they are directly accountable to the responsible Minister.

Staff who work in an administrative office are public service employees. Examples of administrative offices include the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Governor.

7.4 Victorian Public Sector Commission

The Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC) is neither a department nor an administrative office. It reports directly to the Premier.

VPSC’s key functions are to:

  • strengthen the efficiency, effectiveness and capability of the public sector in order to meet existing and emerging needs and deliver high quality services; and
  • maintain and advocate for public sector professionalism and integrity.

7.5 Public Service Body Head

The head of each department, administrative office and the Victorian Public Sector Commission is a public service body head. Section 16 of the Public Administration Act also lists a small number of office holders who have the functions of a public service body head in relation to their own staff. This includes the Auditor-General and the Victorian Information Commissioner.

In a department, the public service body head is generally referred to as ‘Secretary’. Appointments of public service body heads are approved by the Premier. Key responsibilities of a public service body head are set out in the Public Administration Act. These include:

  • the general conduct and effective, efficient and economical management of the functions and activities of the relevant public service body
  • advising the relevant Minister(s) in all matters relating to the public service body; and
  • independently exercising employer powers under the Public Administration Act.

Public service body heads are also responsible for the safety and well being of the staff in their department.

7.6 Victorian Secretaries Board

The Victorian Secretaries Board (VSB) comprises the Secretaries of each department, the Chief Commissioner of Police and the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner. VSB is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. It coordinates issues of strategic importance across the public sector, and promotes leadership and information exchange in the public service. VSB does not have a legal status. The Department of Premier and Cabinet provides secretariat support to VSB.