Don’t be critical of your prime minister on social media
by Dee McLachlan
There are just over 12.1 million people employed in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that in June 2016 there were 1,924,800 public sector employees (with 186,500 local, 243,300 Commonwealth, and 1,495,100 in state government).
That means 15% of Australia’s workforce (1.9 million people) are unlikely to make comments on Gumshoe News, as this site can be highly critical of Canberra. They would be risking their livelihood were they to share one of our posts. Wow.
New Social Media Guide Lines for Public Employees
New social media guidelines were published on Monday by the Australian Public Service Commission. Public service employees “have the right to participate in public and political debate”, but it is “not an unlimited right”.
News.com.au reported that:
“Public servants who “like” or share a Facebook post critical of the government could find themselves in hot water — even if they select the “angry face” reaction… [and] could also be in breach of the public service code of conduct for material they send in a private email, or for failing to remove “nasty comments” posted by other people to their social media pages.”
You could be punished if you share something you disagree with — but you are ALLOWED to share if you agree (with the government). The article continues:
“Again, the breach of the Code is not in their subsequent publication of your material, but in your emailing that material in the first place,” it says. “In fact, there’s nothing to stop your friend from forwarding your email directly to your employer and reporting your behaviour.”
And for nasty comments made by someone else on one’s social media pages — the guidelines state that this “can reasonably be seen in some circumstances as your endorsement of that material”.
Joining the “wrong” Facebook group could get public servants in “trouble.” Trouble means jeopardizing one’s careers and family stability.
These employees have to make sure no derogatory comments are made on their Facebook posts.
Sadly, I am sure none of the 1.9 million Australian public service employees will dare to subscribe to Gumshoe News. It would be too dangerous to do so. Am I the only one that thinks there is something terribly wrong with this.
This is also what the new guide lines say:
“Why can’t I say what I want if I post anonymously? [the question was a heading] …Posting material anonymously or using a pseudonym doesn’t guarantee your identity will stay hidden… It’s a simple fact: agencies often receive dob-ins about comments made by their employees. [Big brother is watching you]
“What if I’ve posted after hours? …comments you make after hours [using your own equipment] can make people question your ability to be impartial, respectful and professional when you are at work. APS employees are required by law to uphold the APS Values at all times.
“What about my right to freedom of speech? …the Code of Conduct operates to limit this right.
What about ‘liking’, sharing and reposting? If you ‘like’ something on a social media platform, it will generally be taken to be an endorsement of that material as though you’d created that material yourself.
I understand that public sector employees need to be professional, show respect and act impartially — but what if the government is acting improperly? Of course there are ways to report this, but it is beyond public view.
This must also be a dire warning to any whistle-blowers out there.
In November 2016, the Australian Public Service Commission asked federal bureaucrats for their views on the question of whether bureaucrats miss out on public self-expression. Here is a fraction of the comments published: (I quote the first seven)
Jay:..the Australian Government has free reign to implement its own policies in regards to Social Media Commentary. However, EVERY person has the right to comment on the political process which we are supposed to engage through a process of democratic discourse. …Why is the government so afraid of the people?
Jo: It’s unfair and oppressive…
Derek: …Why pretend we agree with everything we’re told to do?…As long as expression is respectful, it should be permitted.
Darren: I think that there should be no restriction on political commentary, even policies within your department. I have been a public servant for more than a decade and I have served governments of the day of both persuasions. Never have I refused or failed to do the job… public servants are more likely to be politically engaged that the average Australian, by the very nature of the work they do…
Patrick: …In the US, the ‘Pickering’ test says that the government cannot restrain speech by a public servant on a matter of public concern unless the comments create disruption to government operations that is so severe that it justifies the restriction on free speech…
Marian: I…why should I be prohibited from making comment publicly about immigration policy or environment policy if I don’t even work in that area?
Brooke: …I’m worried about liking posts or refuting incorrect information for fear of losing my job. …If it applies to one, it should apply to all… Ministers cannot degrade public servants either
Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation
In April 1990 a Four Corners program had been broadcast in New Zealand on Television New Zealand’s Frontline program. The program alleged that the New Zealand Labour Party had “come to be improperly under the influence of large business interests, as a result of those interests making large donations to New Zealand Labour’s 1987 election campaign funds.”
David Lange, who was the New Zealand Prime Minister, brought defamation proceedings against the ABC. Readers, much more experienced than I can comment on whether there is any relevance to these latest guide lines for public sector employees. I quote findlaw.com.au:
“The Justices emphasised that ss 7 and 24 of the Constitution… [and] further noted that the freedom will not invalidate any laws which were enacted that satisfied some other legitimate end, as long as two conditions are met:
“The first condition is that the object of law is attuned with the preservation of the “… constitutionally prescribed system of representative and responsible government or the procedure for submitting a proposed amendment to the Constitution to the informed decision of the people which the Constitution prescribes”; and
“The second condition is that the law is “… reasonably appropriate and adapted to achieving that legitimate object or end.”
So has the government proposed something that is not reasonably adapted to achieving a legitimate end?(Would government employees please comment on this post.)
Photo credit: Herald Sun