Good governance for WA boards and committees

A respected and trusted public sector is vital to effective government. As a member of a government board or committee (collectively referred to as ‘boards’), you will contribute to community confidence in the public sector by providing relevant skills and experience to support public sector decision making, and ensuring the views of interest groups and stakeholders are considered in public sector service delivery.

In general, boards are responsible for ensuring good governance of a public sector body. As such, a board must ensure effective systems and processes are in place to shape, enable and oversee the body’s management. Boards are not generally responsible for the day-to-day operations of the public sector bodies they oversee. That responsibility falls to the Chief Executive Officer of each body.

Boards must ensure their own processes conform to good governance principles. As a board member, you operate in a legislative and public policy environment that provides frameworks for accountability, governance, management, policy development and service delivery. Your understanding and effective application of these frameworks is critical to maintaining the trust placed in your board and in you as a member.

The Public Sector Commissioner has key statutory responsibilities for the overall administration and management of the public sector, promoting efficiency and effectiveness and ensuring safeguards are in place to plan for the future. 

Accordingly, the Public Sector Commission (the Commission) has developed a suite of publications and a resources guide to support the work of board members in overseeing public sector bodies, which are available on this website. Board members are encouraged to contact the Commission for guidance about complex matters. 

The structures of boards, roles, responsibilities, principles, accountability and governance matters, including the legislative and policy frameworks that may be relevant to board members, are identified and summarised throughout these resources. However, these resources—and advice provided by the Commission on contact—do not constitute legal advice. As a board member, you are responsible for familiarising yourself with the requirements affecting your position, taking into consideration the specific nature of your board and its stakeholders, and for seeking further advice or legal counsel as appropriate.

Types of boards and ​committees

The Department of the Premier and Cabinet maintains a list of boards on the State Government Boards and Committees Register. Admission to the register is determined according to the definition of ‘Board or Committee’ provided under Premier’s Circular 2017/08 (HTML).

In addition to the boards meeting the definition in the Circular, there are a number of other boards within the public sector with similar roles and responsibilities that will also find the information provided in this resource useful.

In terms of their authority and functions, boards can be broadly grouped into several types:

Tradi​ng boards

These boards are engaged in commercial activities and in a broad sense, are all government owned. They include the Gold Corporation, Electricity Networks Corporation (Western Power) and the Busselton Water Board.

Governin​g boards

These boards govern the operation of an agency. They include the Insurance Commission of Western Australia, Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Botanical Parks and Gardens Authority. Their particular functions and powers are usually set out in their enabling legislation.

Policy, review o​r specialist boards

These boards have a policy or coordination role, such as the Industry Management Committee and the State Emergency Management Committee.

Reg​ulatory, registration, appeal or quasi-judicial boards

These boards are charged with making independent decisions affecting large groups and determining matters of importance with a regulatory or registration role, such as the Legal Practice Board of Western Australia and the Local Government Standards Panel.

Steward​ship boards

These boards are entrusted with the stewardship of public assets and resources. They include the Aboriginal Land Trust, Public Education Endowment Trust and the Western Australian Local Government Grants Commission.

Advi​sory or consultative boards

These boards provide independent or expert advice to the Government on strategic matters or matters of broad significance. They can be either statutory or non-statutory, such as the Geographic Names Committee, Regional Development Council and the Pest Animal Control Ethics Advisory Committee.

Governance​ framework 

The laws, government policies and priorities and other obligations that bind a public sector body are known as its governance framework. The foundations of good governance in the public sector are built upon: 

  • legislative, legal and government frameworks 
  • effective risk management 
  • delegations in decision making 
  • accountability, transparency, integrity, stewardship, efficiency and leadership 
  • values and codes of conduct 
  • oversight, monitoring and continual improvement (oversight agencies). 

It is important for all boards to employ good corporate governance practices to ensure they effectively perform their function and comply with their obligations. In order to do this, it is vital you understand your overarching responsibilities and your public sector body’s: 

  • governance framework 
  • stakeholder relationships 
  • strategic and business planning obligations 
  • monitoring and reporting obligations (for example, annual reporting) 
  • policies and key documents (for example, board charter). 

The systems and practices that support good governance for boards may evolve over time as their individual circumstances change. There is an ongoing obligation on boards to monitor and review their systems, practices and governance framework to ensure they remain relevant and current. A board will be required to perform a range of corporate governance activities throughout a year. An annual planning calendar can assist the board to structure the meeting agenda over the course of the year to ensure all required corporate governance activities are completed. 

The attention of a board should be directed towards establishing an effective balance between conformance and performance, taking into consideration the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ elements of governance. 

Conformance refers to compliance with legislative and legal requirements, as well as corporate governance, industry standards and accountability to relevant stakeholders (for example, ministers, business/industry representatives, non-government organisations, the community, public sector bodies, private contractors and academics). 

Performance refers to monitoring the performance of the public sector body and CEO, including setting organisational goals and developing strategies to achieve those goals, and being responsive to changing environmental demands (including the prediction and management of risk). 

The diagram below provides an overview of the board governance framework. Governance arrangements must be flexible and are expected to vary between different types of boards due to their differing roles, functions and operational context. Accordingly, some elements of the governance framework will apply to all categories of boards and some will not. For example, a member of a governing board will have greater fiscal and oversight responsibilities, such as approving budgets and setting corporate strategy, while advisory boards may place more focus on monitoring performance and stakeholder feedback.

board governance framework

Page last updated 21 September 2017