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Roles and Responsibilities of the Premier and Ministers

Roles and Responsibilities of the Premier and Ministers

Responsible Government
As Members of Parliament, Ministers are responsible to it. This is the basis of the principle of responsible government. It is a firmly established convention that the Ministers – both collectively and individually - are responsible for their actions and for the decisions of Cabinet. By convention, a Minister or a Government unable to command majority support in the Lower House or who has been demonstrated to have misled parliament on some issue, will be expected to resign.

As a Member of Cabinet, a Minister forms part of the policy and decision-making process that is central to government action. The processes and discussions of Cabinet are confidential, unlike those of Parliament, and it is only the decisions which emerge. These decisions may result in new legislation, budgetary changes, appointments and many other actions and statements. Ministers, being senior party members, also tend to be influential in party matters and organisation.

Roles and Responsibilities of Ministers
In heading up a Government department or departments, Ministers are responsible for the effectiveness and efficiency of the agencies within their portfolio. Working with the appointed heads of these agencies, they will implement government policy and ensure agencies meet their goals and purposes within their allocated budgets. They will also seek the advice of the agency in the development of budgets, policy and new legislation. Each Minister will have statutes (laws) which they and their departments administer and must work within. Many of them allow the Minister to make regulations (such as traffic rules) which the Governor will proclaim. In a way, therefore, the Minister can make laws, although this, again, is subject to Parliament. Ministers are also responsible for the carriage of any new legislation in Parliament relating to their area of responsibility.

Ministers will also officiate at or represent the government at meetings and functions on special occasions. They will meet delegations and conduct negotiations, and may travel to represent government interests or their department.

Ministers who are Members of the Legislative Assembly are also local Members with local electorate responsibilities and must spend regular time dealing with the interests of their constituents and maintain an effective local electorate office.

The Premier
As the chief minister, the Premier, has all the responsibilities and roles of any Member and Minister but with a higher profile and greater level of expectation. The Premier is the senior representative and spokesperson for the Government, is usually its predominant Parliamentary performer, and tends to set the overall tone and direction of the Government. profile Media attention on any Premier in the last few decades has tended to present them to the public view almost as though they were the government on their own. It is they who are most likely to be held responsible by the media and public for perceived government shortcomings or to gain credits for successes. The Premier leads and coordinates the work of the Ministers, having greater authority over all aspects of the Cabinet and Government’s actions than any other Minister. As noted previously, the Premier allocates (and can withdraw) the portfolios that Ministers have and, in the case of the non-Labor parties, also chooses who will be Ministers. The Premier is usually also very influential in party matters.

The Constitution of New South Wales
There is little reference to the Ministers by title in the New South Wales Constitution. Only the Premier and Attorney-General are specifically referred to - as there is considerable variation in the makeup of the Ministries and their portfolios. Some long standing positions have now disappeared from the Executive, the Colonial Secretary (later Chief Secretary) was a position which existed from 1824 but disappeared in recent years. The position of Attorney-General is the longest surviving executive position, going back to at least 1826. The position of Premier came into existence in 1856 with the institution of responsible government. Some former executive positions eventually became public service positions (such as Surveyor-General, Auditor-General, Commissioner of Railways), while others disappeared from the State government when their functions were transferred to the Federal Parliament in 1901 (Postmaster-General, Collector of Customs). Another position of very long and consistent standing is that of Treasurer. The New South Wales Treasury Office is the second oldest institution of government in the state dating back to 1824, and the position of Colonial Treasurer was established in 1830 (and held for its first 26 years by Campbell Drummond Riddell). Inevitably, with such influence over the direction of financial affairs of the state, the Treasurer has always been a position of great importance in Cabinet and which has often also been held by the Premier.