Si Insight: explains to you the important role of Ministerial Advisers

26 November 2015


They are not public servants. They are not elected representatives. However, building positive relationships with Ministerial Advisers is central to all successful government relations endeavours.

Ministerial Advisers are the eyes and ears of their busy Ministers. They have regular direct access to senior public servants. However, the role of a Ministerial Adviser remains opaque and undefined. There is no job description, training manual or formal induction. This is alarming given the responsibility of the role.

The modern Ministerial Adviser role emerged during the early 1980s when staff were recruited from the public service as the Private Secretary to a Member of Parliament. Bernard Wooley portrays this role as the Principal Private Secretary to Minister Jim Hacker in the Yes Minister series. By the end of the decade, the position had evolved into Chief of Staff and Ministerial Adviser roles influenced in part by corporate American management models.

Given that the Ministerial Adviser role is often a pathway to Parliament, closer examination is worthwhile. Many MPs cut their teeth during their more formative years in politics as Ministerial Advisers. Senator for NSW and Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos served as Chief of Staff to Prime Minister John Howard for some ten years.

Former Trade and Education Minister Craig Emerson served as an economic adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke and also to Finance Minister the late Peter Walsh. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was Chief of Staff to former Victorian Premier John Brumby during his time as Leader of the Opposition in Victoria. Brumby, himself a Chief of Staff to a Keating Government Minister, has recently urged new MPs to undergo training when they first enter Parliament to give them better skills to be a Minister.

The previous experience of many MPs is based around being a Ministerial Adviser. Some MPs who become Ministers of the Crown oversee departments with multi-million dollar budgets without having ever employed anybody in their life.

Over the next few weeks, Si will be releasing a Ministerial Advisers Handbook based on insights from former Cabinet Ministers and Ministerial Advisers in the Statesman Institute expert network.

Si will explain the four main components to being a successful Ministerial Adviser.


Statesman Institute will teach you how to work with Ministerial Advisers to get maximum value from your Government Relations activities.

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