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(Will Brooking and his team leader Tracey Day are interviewed separately about comments made on Wills blog)
Will Brooking, APS 6 Policy Analyst: I do really like being a public servant. I feel what we can do really does make a difference. It's just one of those things, you know. We play a really important part in Australian society, but just recently, things have become a bit difficult. We've got a new Secretary, an internal promotion and just the new direction she's taking things in, I just don't agree with it – it seems crazy to me.
Tracey Day, EL2 Team Leader, Policy Analysis: New Secretaries can be challenging, for everyone. We all have to get used to doing a lot of different things. We have to take a different approach to our work and sometimes when you are really passionate about work it's hard to let it go.
Will: You know its like taking all the good work we've done over the last three or four years and just tossing it all out the window. I am really struggling with it. The department is really, really good and its got a great opportunity to help a lot of Australians but with this new direction I just don't know how we can sort of show our place in public and I am a bit worried about, you know, senate estimates, and what other people are thinking about us right now.
Tracey: One of my staff members, Will, has a really strong ownership of what he is doing and he is pretty upset about what's happening. So I had a meeting with him to talk about some new changes that the new department head was implementing and needless to say he didn't hold back on his criticism about the new Secretary or the way the department was going.
Will: My team leader, Tracey, she came and tried to explain my next piece of work to me the other day and I don't understand it. It's just nonsense and I told her exactly what I thought, you know, where I thought we were going wrong, but, who knows.
Tracey: I wasn't aware of his website or his blog. I mean, how could I be? But I was today when the Secretary called me into her office. The City Times had been in contact with the department and they had just published some pretty damning information about the department from Will's blog.
Will: I've always been interested in the blogging, the social networking. You know, I've had my own website for five or six years now—the "e" stuff. I use it to keep in touch with mainly with music, the alternative scene, not the stuff you hear on commercial radio. Its got a little about me, who I am and a few pictures, what I do, my interests – a little bit about Governance, the social picture of the world, all that sort of stuff.
Tracey: It went on to suggest that some of our staff are being asked to do some pretty crazy work and that we are wasting tax payer's money. The Secretary was ropable, as you can imagine. She has showed me the site, and one or two of the postings are pretty terrible.
Will: It's all stuff I do outside of work, it's of no concern to work or anybody here. It's what I do when I go home at night, occasionally before I come in—it gives me something to do on the weekend, when I am waiting for the gigs to start. I do talk about you know a whole lot of stuff on there, you know, music, politics, sex, religion—it's all my stuff though.
Tracey: I've got to look into it and talk to Will. And I've got to get back to the Secretary within the hour. More media are contacting her and they want interviews
How was I to know?
Reflecting on the exercise: Another Life
Advances in technology mean there is considerable interest in the use of online communication as means of consultation and discussion.
At the APS-wide level there is considerable support for a Government blog and discussion forum, and some agencies are experimenting in this area.
To help guide agencies and staff in this new area, the Public Service Commissioner released interim protocols for online media participation in December 2008.
But it is important to remember that use of online media by staff as part of their work, or in a private capacity, is governed by the same rules about using and disclosing information and making public comment that apply with other forms of communication.
Generally, public servants may make public comment in a private capacity, including on a blog, so long as they make clear they are expressing their own views. However, it is not appropriate for employees to make public comment:
- If it could be perceived as being on behalf of the agency or government rather than a personal view—this applies particularly to senior public servants
- If it could compromise an employee's capacity to fulfill his or her duties in an unbiased manner. This applies particularly where the comment is made about polices or programs in the employee's own agency.
- If the comment is so harsh or extreme in its criticisms of government or its policies that it raises questions about the employee's capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially. Such comment does not have to relate to the employee's area of work.
- If the comment is a gratuitous personal attack.
- Or if the comment compromises public confidence in the agency or the APS.
Relevant APS Values and elements of the Code of Conduct
- The APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner (s10(1)(a) of the Public Service Act).
- The APS is openly accountable for its actions within the framework of Ministerial responsibility to the government, to the parliament and the Australian public (s10(1)(c) of the Public Service Act).
- The APS has the highest ethical standards (s10(1)(d) of the Public Service Act).
- An APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS (s13(11) of the Public Service Act).
- An APS employee must comply with any other conduct requirement that is prescribed by regulations (s13(13) of the Public Service Act). Public Service Regulation 2.1 imposes a duty on an APS employee not to disclose certain information without authority (i.e. information communicated in confidence or where disclosure could be prejudicial to the effective working of government). The full text of reg. 2.1 can found at www.comlaw.gov.au.
Commenting publicly: Is Will free to write anything he wants on his blog? How might others view Will as a result of what he has written? Has Will breached the Code of Conduct? If so, how? How could Will have done things differently? What were Tracey's responsibilities and role? How could Tracey have managed things better? Are there any other conduct issues raised by the vodcast?
- Don't assume that anything done outside of working hours is not connected with work.
- Get to know how the APS values might apply outside of work. Discuss possible situations with colleagues and your supervisor.
- Find out what your agency's IT policies are.
- As a manager, explain reasons for decisions clearly—beware of making assumptions. Communicate agency IT policies well, particularly new and updated policies.
APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: a guide to official conduct for APS employees and agency heads (Chapters 3 and 15)