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Making public comment and participating online

Objective

This policy provides guidance and direction to employees of the agency about making public comment as a private citizen, including online.

Principles

Employees have the same right to freedom of expression as other members of the community, subject to a legitimate public interest in maintaining an impartial and effective public service.  Public confidence in the integrity of public administration is protected by the APS Values and Code of Conduct.

The agency respects the right of employees to participate in political, advocacy, and community activities.

In doing so, however, employees must behave in a way that does not seriously call into question their capacity to act apolitically and impartially in their work.

It is also important that the reputation of the agency is not placed at risk by comments that our employees make.

We expect you to take reasonable steps to ensure that any public comment you make, including online, falls within these parameters.

Limiting factors

You can generally make public comment in a personal or private capacity if the comment is lawful and isn’t, or couldn’t reasonably be perceived to be:

  1. being made on behalf of their agency or the Government, rather than an expression of a personal view
  2. compromising the employee's capacity to fulfil their duties in an impartial manner—this applies particularly where comment is made about policies and programs of the employee's agency
  3. so harsh or extreme in its criticism of the Government, a Member of Parliament from any political party, or their respective policies, that the employee is no longer able to work professionally, efficiently or impartially
  4. prejudicial to the integrity or good reputation of the employee's agency or the APS
  5. so strong in its criticism of an agency's administration that it could seriously disrupt the workplace—APS employees are encouraged instead to resolve concerns by informal discussion with a manager or by using internal dispute resolution mechanisms
  6. a gratuitous personal attack that is connected with their employment
  7. compromising public confidence in their agency or the APS.

Staying safe

Exercise discretion and use your own judgement when making decisions about making public comment or participating online.  Generally, if you have any doubt you should seek advice from your supervisor or [point of contact] before taking any action.
To help you in making these judgements when you’re considering making a public comment:

Do Don’t
  1. behave with respect and courtesy even when you’re disagreeing with someone or something
  2. stick to the policy issues under discussion and avoid personal attacks.  Exchanging insults doesn’t help anyone, and neither does bad language
  3. remember that what you say or post can affect your reputation and the agency’s
  4. make it clear that the views you are expressing are personal, not the agency’s, if that’s practical
  5. remember that people will draw conclusions about material that you ‘like’, ‘share’ or ‘repost’
  6. if you’re doing something larger, like writing an article for publication, talk the issues through with your manager
  7. if you see something about the agency or our work that you think should be corrected, raise this with the communications team.
  1. engage in comments that breach anti-discrimination law
  2. criticise the agency or the Minister. If you feel that we’re not doing everything as well as we could, there are other avenues for you to make complaints
  3. comment on policy matters that we’re involved with
  4. act in a way that is inconsistent with your ability to be impartial and professional in the performance of your duties. Think about how other people would perceive your comments and the conclusions they’re likely to draw
  5. release sensitive, personal or confidential information without proper authority
  6. use your official e-mail address, or anything else that connects you to this agency, when making public comment.

Some things to remember

Comment made online, including on social media:

  1. is available immediately to a wide audience
  2. effectively endures without limit
  3. may be copied repeatedly
  4. may be seen by people who
    1. it was not intended for, or
    2. may use it for a purpose for which it was not intended, or
    3. may take it out of context.

Assume that anything you send or post can be seen by anyone. You can’t rely on a site’s security settings to protect you or keep your material private. Whatever you post can be copied easily; where it ends up is out of your control.

It’s always safest to assume that anything you say will be traced back to you and that you will be identified as an employee of this agency. Making comments anonymously, or using a pseudonym, can’t be relied on to protect you.

Senior employees, particularly employees in the SES, need to exercise particular care because of their leadership role, and the real, or perceived, influence they may have with stakeholders. SES employees need to be aware that they are more likely to be perceived to be commenting on behalf of the agency—even when making comment in a private capacity and even if you say that you’re making it in your personal capacity.

Definitions

Employee – means the same as an ‘APS employee’ as defined in the Public Service Act 1999 who is working in the agency. It includes employees on secondment to the agency.

Public comment – the term is used broadly, and includes comment made:

  1. at public speaking engagements
  2. during radio or television interviews
  3. on the internet (including blogs, social networking sites and other online media that allow user participation and interaction)
  4. in letters to the press
  5. in books or notices
  6. in academic or professional journals
  7. in emails or letters that have been made public even though they were originally intended to be private
  8. in other forums where the comment is intended for, or may be accessed by, the community.

Social media - includes, but is not limited to online applications such as social networking sites, wikis, blogs, micro-blogs, video and audio sharing sites and message boards.

Questions or concerns

The application of the Values and Code of Conduct to a particular instance of public comment may not always be clear-cut. Employees are encouraged to discuss these matters with their manager or the [Human Resources section]. Employees can also seek advice from the Ethics Advisory Service in the Australian Public Service Commission.