5.83 The Cabinet Office is a government secretariat, providing continuity and impartial support for operations at the centre of government. The Cabinet Office is a unit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, headed by the Secretary of the Cabinet. The Secretary of the Cabinet is a public servant and therefore politically neutral. The position is held by someone other than the holder of the position of Chief Executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
5.84 The Secretary of the Cabinet is responsible directly to the Prime Minister for the impartial recording of Cabinet decisions and for the development and administration of Cabinet processes. The Secretary is also responsible to Cabinet as a collective for ensuring the confidentiality of Cabinet proceedings and the impartial and effective operation of the Cabinet system.
5.85 The Secretary of the Cabinet usually also holds the office of Clerk of the Executive Council (see paragraphs 1.33 – 1.37). The Clerk of the Executive Council is responsible directly to the Prime Minister and the Governor-General respectively for servicing the Executive Council and providing advice, as required, on constitutional and central government administrative matters.
5.86 The Secretary of the Cabinet is responsible for ensuring that the functions of the Cabinet Office are carried out effectively. These functions include:
- conducting and maintaining the central decision-making processes of executive government;
- providing secretariat services to Cabinet and Cabinet committees;
- attending all Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings to facilitate and record impartially the decisions taken;
- maintaining and preserving the records of successive Cabinets;
- managing transitions between administrations and supporting continuity of government;
- providing advice (to the Prime Minister and, as required, Ministers and government departments) on certain central government issues (constitutional, honours, ethical, policy, procedural, and administrative), especially those specified in the Cabinet Manual;
- building and sustaining knowledge and understanding of centre-of-government constitutional functions;
- promoting effective relationships between Cabinet and departments and agencies, including providing advice on issues relating to Cabinet and Cabinet committee decision-making processes;
- providing guidance on central government operations and processes, through means including the CabGuideand Cabinet Office circulars;
- coordinating the policy and administrative aspects of the government's legislation programme; and
- advising on Ministers' conduct, public duty, and conflicts of interests.
5.87 The unique and significant nature of the Secretary/Clerk position in the constitutional arrangements of central government, and the need to preserve and support the impartiality and independence of the position, require the appointment process to be transparent and moderated. The Secretary/Clerk is appointed by the Chief Executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The appointment process is modelled on the Chief Executive appointment process set out in the State Sector Act 1988. An appointment panel is convened, including the Chief Executive of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the State Services Commissioner, and the Solicitor-General. The Prime Minister and the Governor-General are consulted about the appointment.