Advice for Writing Cabinet Papers
Writing Cabinet Papers – Information for Government Departments
When you are writing a Cabinet paper, there are a number of rules and requirements that you must be aware of.
Cabinet has established requirements for papers submitted to Cabinet and Cabinet committees, to ensure that submissions are of a consistently high standard and contain all the information that is necessary for Ministers to make sound decisions.
The CabGuide is the main source of information on the requirements for Cabinet papers. The Guide contains a template of the standard format for a submission; it outlines what must be included in submissions, contains a guide for departmental consultation, and provides some tips on good presentation. There is information on financial recommendations, and special requirements for papers going to Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee (APH) and Cabinet Legislation Committee (LEG).
From time to time, the Cabinet Office issues circulars that provide useful information to Ministers and departments, and outline new requirements for writing submissions. For example, the circular “Guidelines for Changes to Baselines” CO (02) 17 [NB this circular has been cancelled. It has now been replaced by CO (10) 2 Capital Asset Management in Departments and Crown Entities: Expectations and CO (11) 6 Guidelines and Requirements for Proposals with Financial Implications] sets out the process agreed to by Cabinet for changes to baselines. It provides generic guidance on the baseline management system, and on authority to approve changes. All the Cabinet Office Circulars are available on this site in PDF format.
Key Ingredients of Good Cabinet Papers
Apart from the formal requirements established by Cabinet, there are some basic ingredients that make a good paper, and help the paper achieve the desired outcome. Papers should be:
- Necessary – the type of issues that are considered by Cabinet are set out in the CabGuide.
- Relevant – proposals should be part of government policy or consistent with government policy.
- Clear and easy to read – use plain language and focus the paper on the decisions that are actually sought.
- Logical and well formatted – highlight key issues and options, and follow the standard format in the CabGuide.
- Timely – build time into your development of the paper for Cabinet processes, for consultation and further work. Include buffers, as things don’t always go as you planned.
- Well consulted – there is information on consultation requirements in the CabGuide.
Cabinet and committee processes take time. To help smooth the progress of a paper it is useful to be aware of the extra time that will be required once the paper is written, to actually have the paper considered and obtain a decision.
- The first process to allow time for is the consultation that will be undertaken by the Minister with his or her colleagues. For example, for papers seeking new appropriations outside the budget process, the relevant Vote Minister must personally consult the Minister of Finance before submitting the paper to a committee or to Cabinet.
- The second timing consideration to be aware of is the deadline for submission of papers to the Cabinet Office. The deadline for lodging Cabinet and committee papers is 10am on the Thursday before the meeting.
- The third consideration that will affect the timing of a paper is whether or not Cabinet and committees will be meeting in the week you intend to submit the paper.
Links to helpful sites when writing papers
Gender analysis information and resources, including a chart of key questions to ask in gender analysis.
Office of Disability Issues: