A minute is an article of written communication within Government.
Proper communication is necessary for effective government. The purpose of a Parliamentary, Ministerial or Cabinet minute is to succinctly and effectively communicate valuable and relevant information. These Covering Minutes (also known as Ministerials or Briefings) are vital to the running of a government.
In accordance with this, the government of New South Wales maintains a strict set of standards and practices with regards to correspondence.
These standards, known as Guidelines for Ministerial Correspondence and Parliamentary and Ministerial Briefings (PWM-0916) were originally issued on 15 July, 1994, and were revised 23 November, 1998. They are controlled by the Premier's Department and maintained by each Department's Ministerial and Executive Support Unit.
PWM-0916 is a fairly hefty document (weighing in at a shade over 40 pages) so I have written a summary, covering the article's pertinent issues. Since these guidelines represent the culmination of years of development, discussion and communication, they may be applied in many non-Government areas of life. Perfect for the subconscious obsessive-compulsive in you.
A sample of the guidelines on presentation and appearance include:
- Minutes must be submitted on one A4 page. In exceptional circumstances, staff may seek the permission of the Ministerial and Executive Support Unit of the individual Department to extend a minute to two pages.
- Margin width is normally 1" (2.5cm). If reducing the margins will allow the document to be submitted on one page, the margins may be reduced to no less than 1/2" (1.25 centimetres). (Note: Perceptive readers may note that 1" does not quite equal 2.5cm. These figures are provided in the document; the NSW Government does not reserve the right to alter the conventional calibrations of distance.)
- All parliamentary minutes must be in 12 point Times New Roman font. If reducing the document to 11 point will allow it to fit onto one page, this is acceptable. No part of the document can be less than 11 point unless specified below.
Section headings must be 12 point, bold and in capital letters, unless otherwise specified. The format of a Ministerial is as follows:
- Department name (all caps, 14-16 point, bold)
- Division or group name (optional; all caps, 10 point, not bold)
- Current Position
The author of the document is responsible for the veracity of its contents. Once the letter passes the General Manager, the facts stated within the minute will be assumed to be correct. The author may assume that if the information is discovered to be wrong, all responsiblity (and the wrath of the Government) will fall solely on them.
The document should address the following sections:
Issue: A statement of the primary concerns of the subject: whether it be a pertinent issue in the media or reference to a letter to the Minister.
Background: In this section, the history of the issue is described. If there are any previous relevant documents, they must be mentioned here. Please see 'Assembly of Documents' on how these letters should be appended.
Current Position: This section states either what has been done to resolve the issue, or how it is proposed to resolve it. If legal advice has been sought, the advice should be noted here.
Comment: The comment section is designed to note useful information that may create a better understanding of the situation or the personalities involved. It may include informal analysis, recommendations or advice.
Recommendation: This section must be perfectly clear so that there can be no misunderstanding.
The end of the minute is reserved for authentication and signatures. The minute must be appended with the author's name, position and direct phone number (including cell phone, if applicable). The following people are required to sign and date the document adjacent to their details, as a form of noting their approval of the minute's contents:
- Branch head
- Legal Services (as required)
- Corporate Relations (only if a press release is attached or specific circumstances require this input)
- Divisional director or group general manager
Minutes and letters submitted to the Minister for signature must contain a "for signature" tag directly adjacent to the place where the minister is to sign.
I quote directly: "There is only one acceptable colour for the minister's signature tags: yellow. No other colour is acceptable."
Once the author has completed the minute, the minute and any other relevant documents must be assembled in the following order (top to bottom):
- Cabinet Minute;
- Draft letter for Minister's signature and a copy, secured by paper clips to the Minute;
- An envelope large enough to contain the Minister's letter, attached by paper clips to the copy;
- The original document that is the subject of the Minister's response (eg. letter, documentation, newspaper article);
- Supporting information referred to in the covering minute (tagged and referenced appropriately);
- A thick red cover with a buff card in a clear plastic envelope underneath the papers. The buff card must contain the name of the Ministerial, its registration number (when given) and hand-over signatures.
As soon as the red cover is attached to the documents, it must pass by hand at all stages until it is signed or rejected by the Minister.
The Guidelines for Ministerial Correspondence and Parliamentary and Ministerial Briefings (PWM-0916) also discusses grammatical and linguistic rules. For reference purposes, the Guidelines recommend the Oxford English Dictionary and A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H.W. Fowler.