Briefings are integral to communication and decision-making within our department and across government.
They provide advice, information and recommendations to key departmental figures, including the Premier, often with far-reaching effects for programs and people.
Instructions of how to prepare a brief, including templates and examples can be found on the Hub or via this link.
Types of briefing
There are many types of briefing, with the most common scenarios relating to:
emerging or contentious issues
correspondence, usually with draft responses
meetings that the Premier or Secretary will attend
events or functions, often with speech notes.
memos, usually informal requests for information direct from an Adviser rather than the Premier.
The three main types are: Template Purpose
Other briefings have special formats, such as Questions on Notice and House Folder notes.
A range of people can ask for a briefing. These include the Premier, Ministers, Secretary or senior DPC officers. Your primary reader will likely be the Premier, the Secretary, a Deputy Secretary or an Executive Director, depending on the issue.
Other officers can also initiate briefings if they need approval for a particular action or wish to alert senior management about an issue.
Research and consultation
When preparing your briefings, please make sure you:
check previous files to see if the department has already commented on the issue
consult within the department for any expertise you need, and make sure these officers agree with the final advice you give
consult all relevant stakeholders, such as other departments, and discuss their views as part of your analysis
review government and departmental policies that might be relevant, and consider potential risks or legal issues
identify the resources needed to implement your recommendation and comment on their availability.
As you assess this information, you generally then need to recommend a course of action for the final reader to decide on. It’s good practice to list alternative courses of action, in case the reader does not wish to proceed with your first recommended choice.
Timing and approval
The Premier’s Office and Office of the Secretary set deadlines for briefings. Some issues will be urgent.
As it is essential that these deadlines are met, you should allow enough time to:
prepare the briefing, consulting with stakeholders where needed
have the briefing approved (allow two days per approver wherever possible)
ensure the Premier, Parliamentary Secretary or Secretary can fully consider the briefing and seek more information if they want to.
Please note if you are setting self-initiated deadlines be generous (where possible) in setting these due dates.
Please ensure all appropriate executive members have been included in the approval process before submitting the brief.
Make your advice transparent
The department must maintain an accurate and transparent record of advice given to the Premier and Secretary, especially in briefings.
This advice may become open to public scrutiny so it is vital that you follow the correct approvals process.
When you are writing, try to make it clear who is responsible for different opinions and information. Use the active voice, wherever possible:
It is proposed that
Analyse the issue, bearing in mind government policy
All briefings must present a logical analysis of what is happening and what should happen.
Readers need to be confident that your briefing:
analyses the issue, including any risks, accurately and comprehensively
recommends the best course of action
is supported by clear reasons and evidence
is strategic and in line with government policy
is sensitive to both political developments and community interests.
This can be difficult, especially when an issue is complex. So when you are writing, carefully assess what information is essential for your reader to be able to make a decision. Identify the heart of the issue and work out the best way to proceed. If possible, limit your briefing to one or two pages.
Format your briefing in the template styles
The template sets the formatting for briefings. Please use the built-in styles and do not adjust the page layout in any way. Do not, for instance, make the font or margins smaller to fit more text on the page.
Instructions of how to prepare correspondence including templates can be found on the Hub or via this link. Please do not edit these approved formatted letter templates.
Do not include any document tracking reference other than the Objective reference number anywhere in a letter, including the footer.
Body text should be Arial, 11 point. Top and bottom margins are 2 cm. Left and right margins are 2.5 cm. Please also make sure you print your briefings on the correct paper stock: Briefing type Paper stock
Write in plain English
Although briefings often deal with complex matters, always use plain English. This means having a clear core message and reasoning. It also means using the simplest language possible to convey that content.
For more information on writing in plain English and for up-to-date advice on punctuation, grammar and language please refer to the BCU Plain English Guide.
The quality of correspondence reveals the quality of an organisation. Timely advice is also a measure of customer service. Sending prompt, clear and accurate replies communicates that we are an efficient and responsive organisation. People or community and industry groups write to the Premier, Secretary and the department about many issues. Most letters and emails:
express views about government policy
ask for the Premier’s help.
We also receive correspondence from other government organisations, members of Parliament and Ministers, or following on from Community Cabinet meetings.
The department registers and tracks correspondence in Objective, which is part of our electronic document and records management (EDRM) system.
Our publicly stated time frame for completing responses to all correspondence is 20 working days from the day the department receives a letter or email.
However, it is not always possible to meet this time frame, especially if we need to seek information elsewhere. In these cases, we must extend the time frame and send an interim letter to the correspondent.
For requests for extension: You must seek approval from the Premier’s Office or the Office of the Secretary.
NB: For urgent matters, the Premier’s Office or the Office of the Secretary may specify an earlier time frame.
Branches will draft briefings and responses and then submit them for approval and signature to one of the following:
an Executive Director
a Deputy Secretary
Authors, directors, Executive Directors and Deputy Secretaries must ensure that briefings and responses:
are accurate and comprehensive
address all industrial, financial and policy issues.
For all correspondence that requires approval from the Premier or Secretary, use the briefing template for approval. This template can be found on the hub or via this link.
Putting your documents in order
When submitting your correspondence for approval, use the following order:
1. the briefing (on pink paper for the Premier (including to the Parliamentary Secretary approving/signing on behalf of the Premier) and white paper for all others
2. the draft response with a ‘For Signature’ tag
3. if needed, attachments that you have referred to in the briefing
4. the original correspondence (or initiating request).
Privacy and confidentiality
By law, staff from all NSW Government agencies must follow the information protection principles that deal with all aspects of information handling. This includes collection, storage, security, use and disclosure.
You should not release people’s private details or any internal working documents without referring to departmental policies and procedures and obtaining proper authorisation.
See ‘what are the information protection principles?’ on the Information and Privacy Commission website.
Difficult or repeat correspondents
If a correspondent continues to write without raising new issues, prepare a briefing that outlines the history of correspondence. Then seek approval from the relevant Deputy Secretary or the Director, BCU, to send no further replies. Include copies of all letters and responses, and any other information showing that no new issues have been raised and no further action can be taken.
With your briefing, include a draft letter that explains that the department will not respond further unless the correspondent gives new information.
Concentrate on facts and resolutions
When preparing correspondence, you should remember that you are writing for the Premier, Parliamentary Secretary or the Secretary. You are asking that person to accept the background information and analysis in your briefing and to approve your draft response.
In the response, concentrate on factual statements, accurate information and resolution. In the briefing, you will need to explain why you are recommending the resolution.
If you promise that something will happen as a result of the correspondent’s letter, make sure there are processes in place to ensure it will happen. If possible, give a time frame.
Consider correspondence carefully
Understand the correspondence before you decide on the best response:
What concerns does the correspondent raise?
What outcomes do they want?
What are the key points they need to understand?
How much do they already know about the subject?
What communication has there been previously?
Does the person have special needs in the way you communicate with them?
Ensure your draft response addresses all the issues raised in the correspondence.
If appropriate and only if approved by a senior manager, contact the writer to clarify issues raised or to resolve the matter. A phone call or meeting may produce a more positive result sooner.
Ensure the response reflects government policy
Write the response so it clearly explains the position of the NSW Government or the department, ensuring it is consistent with those polices. Where needed, concisely outline the actions the department has taken. Ensure the response is sensitive to political developments and community attitudes.
In the briefing, you can refer to any anticipated changes in policy.
If a meeting or action that might affect the contents of a response is scheduled, it is best to provide an interim response rather than give out-of-date information.
Be aware that all correspondence and briefings are subject to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) and the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998. A court can also subpoena briefings and responses.
Structure the response for clarity
As the sequence of your writing affects whether people will understand your message when they first read it, follow these tips:
Start by outlining the purpose of the letter, usually in one paragraph.
State the result or conclusion as early as possible.
Follow this with a succinct summary of your reasoning or explanation.
Provide any essential background, context or history.
Close with contact details.
Parts of the letter: style issues
The guidelines below will help you set out each section in department style.
Members of the public
For members of the public, use their title, given name and family name. If the full name is not known, use initials. Follow with the full address.
Avoid punctuation (such as commas and full stops) in the address block. Put double space between the suburb and state, and state and postcode.
Mr F Smith 12/250 Fairfield Highway FAIRSTONE NSW 2999
If the correspondent’s gender is unclear, use the abbreviation M/s.
M/s F Smith
If more than one person is writing, use ‘and’, not the ampersand (&).
Mr J F and Mrs P Jones
Where there are two or more signatories to a letter representing different organisations, reply to each person in a separate letter. Where there is a list of signatories, reply to the first signatory on the list.
Please don’t leave off pre or post nominals.
Members of Parliament and Ministers
For a Member of Parliament, use the post office box number if one is given. Otherwise use the office street address. For a Minister writing on electorate business, use the electorate address.
Mr J Jones MP Member for Jonesville PO Box 123 JONESVILLE NSW 2888
For a minister writing on ministerial matters, use the office address.
The Hon J P Smith MP Minister for the Environment (use the full ministerial title) Level 17 52 Martin Place SYDNEY NSW 2000
NB: When writing to Ministers in their capacity as local MP, also include their ministerial title.
For the addresses and phone numbers of state ministers and Members of Parliament, see www.parliament.nsw.gov.au.
The table below shows how to write the address for special cases.
Premier of any state or territory Speaker of the Legislative Assembly President of the Legislative Council
The Hon B F Jones MP Premier Minister for Citizenship Level 17 52 Martin Place SYDNEY NSW 2000
The Hon B Smith MP Speaker Legislative Assembly Parliament House Macquarie Street SYDNEY NSW 2000
The Hon D Jones MLC President Legislative Council Parliament House Macquarie Street SYDNEY NSW 2000
Federal Members of Parliament and Ministers
Write the addresses of federal government ministers and federal members of Parliament in the same way as state members of Parliament.
For a minister who is also a senator, use this format:
Senator the Hon R Brown Minister for the Environment PO Box 100 CANBERRA NSW 2600
For the addresses and phone numbers of Federal Ministers and Members of Parliament, see www.australia.gov.au/directories.
If writing to a Minister, commence with ‘Dear Minister’ rather than ‘Dear John’.
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