In contrast, quiet meetings with members of opposition parties’ transition teams (usually comprised of former ministers and political aides) are focused and business-like, with the public service setting an initial agenda and, beyond that, responding to questions and suggestions for additional post-election transition information (in the event their party is elected).
Understanding the likely style, priorities and expectations of these parties is hugely helpful in preparing for transition. This is also an important first opportunity to demonstrate that the public service is planning for every possible electoral outcome and readying itself to provide the best possible support to a new, or returning, government. The nascent relationships that are built in these discussions can be important in the event that some members of a transition team follow a newly-elected premier into government.
Where there is a change in government, it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation for the public service. This is not just about handing over a few sets of briefing binders. A temporary suite of offices, swept by police for eavesdropping devices, is ready and waiting for the premier-elect’s post-election transition team, government-issued cell phones, computer passwords, contact lists and “to-do” lists are distributed and a several-day roll-out of briefing for the premier elect and her/his senior staff is proposed. This is not just about policy advice and fiscal briefings. Done well, it is a full-blown concierge service and public servants must be at the top of their game. They are beginning the process of building trust, one important step at a time. That trust is hard-earned and easily lost – and it’s an essential part of the work of professional public servants.
At the same time senior public servants have to be ready to push back a little in response to any inappropriate expectations on the part of inexperienced political staff (or some experienced ones who are testing the boundaries). The presence of seasoned political heavyweights on an incoming transition team will keep this sort of stuff to a minimum, and will certainly help senior public servants in managing it down. "Speaking truth to power", which involves giving our best public service advice to the government, even in those cases where it is not invited, is a touchy area, but you can't back away from it. And it's usually the case that these efforts are eventually appreciated, even if it doesn't feel that way at the time. If public service advice isn't accepted and the government goes in a different direction, the public service will do its very best to support the government in the implementation of its decisions.
Next: "Brown envelopes"... Calling in the police to investigate leaks of government information.