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Sect 4.15 APS employees as citizens

Note that this page is under review. It has not yet been updated to reflect changes to the Public Service Act 1999 and Public Service Regulations 1999, or contained in the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2013, that came into effect on 1 July 2013. Agencies may continue to use the guidance for reference, but should be aware that it may not reflect current legislative requirements.

Relevant Values and elements of the Code of Conduct

APS Values

  • The APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner.

APS Code of Conduct

  • An APS employee, when acting in the course of APS employment, must treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment.
  • An APS employee must disclose, and take reasonable steps to avoid, any conflict of interest (real or apparent) in connection with APS employment.
  • An APS employee must use Commonwealth resources in a proper manner.

This chapter sets out a general approach to help APS employees decide on the proper course of action in various circumstances. Usually, the decision will be a matter for judgement.

Participating in political activities

It is quite acceptable for APS employees to participate in political activities as part of normal community affairs.

APS employees may become members of or hold office in any political party.

APS employees, whether or not they are members of political parties, are expected to separate their personal views on policy issues from the performance of their official duties. This is an important part of professionalism and impartiality as an APS employee.

Where an APS employee is involved in publicly promoting party or other views on certain issues, and where their duties are directly concerned with advising on or directing the implementation or administration of government policy on those issues, there is potential for conflicts of interest.

Employees of the Australian Electoral Commission

Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation prohibits discrimination against a person on the ground of political opinion. The legislation generally permits exemptions, however, where action that might otherwise amount to discrimination is deemed essential to meet the requirements of the job. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) exemption relates to the importance of the Commission being, and being seen to be, politically neutral. All AEC recruitment and selection advertising and selection criteria contain the statement 'the AEC operates in a politically sensitive environment. Any person who is, and is seen to be, active in political affairs, and intends to publicly carry on this activity, may compromise the strict political neutrality of the AEC and cannot be considered for this position'. All employees sign a declaration of political neutrality on engagement.

Wearing or displaying political material while working

While it is important for a reasonable tolerance to be exercised towards the expression of different political opinions, APS employees should be aware that wearing or displaying political material at work could create disharmony in the workplace. At the same time, APS employees should remember the APS Code requires them to treat their colleagues with respect and courtesy and without harassment.

If an APS employee's duties involve direct public contact, it is not appropriate to wear or display political material while working. It may give the impression that the agency endorses the political material. In some circumstances, it may create doubts in the minds of some clients as to whether their queries or applications will be handled impartially.

Political campaigning and fund raising

Some APS employees choose to campaign for candidates for political office. The role they play may range from handing out how-to-vote cards on election day to other activities with a higher profile.

If an APS employee has a significant role in a political campaign, there is potential for a conflict of interest between taking a position on issues and impartially performing their official duties. The conflict should be discussed with management. Ways of resolving such conflicts might include the employee taking leave, rearranging existing duties, or transferring to other duties, or agreeing to take a less significant role in the political campaign.

If an APS employee is involved in political campaigning, they should make it clear they are not undertaking these activities as part of their official duties. For example, they should not wear an official uniform at party political meetings. APS employees should not use government resources including email, telephones, photocopies, and facsimile machines for any political activity.

An APS employee may apply to take leave without pay, annual or long-service leave to assist with an election campaign.

Standing for Parliament

Section 44 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act provides that any person who holds any office of profit under the Crown: 'shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives'.

The High Court, in its decision in Sykes v. Cleary ((1992) 176 CLR 77), held that section 44(iv) disqualified State and Commonwealth public service officers from being chosen or sitting as a Senator or Member. In Free v. Kelly ((No. 2)(1996 138 ALR 649), the High Court found the successful candidate, employed by the Australian Defence Force at the time of her nomination, ineligible to sit as a Member because she held an office of profit under the Crown.

This means that APS employees would need to resign before being able to nominate as candidates.

It would appear that a person who did not resign from the APS before nominating for election to the Federal Parliament would be in breach of the Constitution. APS employees who are in doubt about this should seek legal advice.

APS employees intending to stand for election to State Parliament, or the Northern Territory or ACT legislative assemblies, should seek legal advice about any legislative provisions that require them to resign from the APS.

Under s. 32 of the PS Act and Regulations 3.14–3.16, an APS employee who resigns to contest an election has the right to be engaged again in the APS as long as they resigned no more than six months before nominations closed and the application to be engaged again was made within two months of the result of the election being declared.

Standing for election for TSRA

APS employees who are Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people living in the Torres Strait region can stand for election to the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA). However, under the provisions of section 142V of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005 , employees of TSRA must resign if they wish to nominate for election. Employees who resign to contest an election but fail to be elected are entitled to be engaged again by the TSRA on the same basis as APS employees who resign to contest seats in Parliament. Employees seeking more information on this issue should contact the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

If APS employees from agencies other than TSRA are elected to the bodies, they should seek agreement to undertake the outside employment involved and make use of leave to attend meetings or carry out the business of the Regional Council or TSRA (see also Chapter 13: Outside employment).

Participating in local government activities

Apart from the matters dealt with below, there is nothing to prevent APS employees from holding office in local government organisations. It is not necessary to resign to stand for election to a local government body.

If an APS employee holds office in, or is employed by, a local government body then agency arrangements concerning outside employment apply (see also Chapter 13: Outside employment). APS employees should take care when considering, or commenting on, political or social issues related to their local government role, to ensure it does not conflict with their official duties.

Participating in union activities

Under the Fair Work Act, APS employees are generally subject to the same workplace relations arrangements as the wider community. They are free to choose whether to join or remain a union member. There is no restriction on which union they may join, or the level at which they participate in union activities. APS employees taking part in trade union activities, for example as officers or delegates of a trade union, must uphold the APS Values and comply with the Code of Conduct, including when making public comment (see Chapter 3: Managing official information).

Participating online

See Chapter 3 'Making public comment' and 'Participating online'.

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