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The Australian Public Service Commission has released its updated guide to social media use by Federal public servants. The guide, Making public comment on social media: A guide for employees, leaves absolutely no room for employees to make critical comments of any of their ministers, superiors, or departments.

Furthermore, it suggests public servants are liable to be disciplined even if they don’t promptly delete a critical post on their social media account by an outsider.

First brought to light by a critical article in The Australian newspaper, the nine-page, 3,000+ word guide goes into some detail as to what is and what is not acceptable.

Now listen up!

“As members of the Australian community, Australian Public Service (APS) employees have the right to participate in public and political debate,” the document begins.

“But this is not an unlimited right. APS employees have particular responsibilities under the Public Service Act 1999 that come with being employed as a public servant by the Commonwealth of Australia. In some cases, these responsibilities limit their ability to participate fully in public discussions, including on social media.”

Criticism is a definite no-no. Whether it is the employee’s current agency, Minister, previous agency, or observations of a person, the guide is clear to begin with: “Criticising the work, or the administration, of your agency is almost always going to be seen as a breach of the Code. The closer your criticism is to your area of work, the more likely this will be.”

The guide then goes on to warn that critical posts are not allowed after hours or in a declared private capacity, or even anonymously: “Even if you don’t identify yourself you can still be identified by someone else.”

And just in case you’re wondering, your right to freedom of speech is, well, worthless: “The common law recognises an individual right to freedom of expression. This right is subject to limitations such as those imposed by the Public Service Act. In effect, the Code of Conduct operates to limit this right.”

The commissioner responds

The Australian Public Service Commissioner The Hon John Lloyd has responded to the detailed article published by The Australian newspaper, declaring it to be misrepresentative:

“The use of social media by employees requires discretion and judgement,” he writes. “For this reason it is important that all employers, including those in the APS, ensure their employees clearly understand the expectations of their behaviour when they use social media.

“The APSC consulted extensively with APS agencies and employees in late 2016. This consultation indicated that the policy settings did not need to change, but that current obligations were not well understood by employees. The CPSU encouraged its members to participate, and made a submission.

“It is not more restrictive than previous guidance. Rather, it clarifies the parameters around what public servants can and cannot say, and should give greater confidence to APS employees when they are participating online activity. Submissions to the review indicated that aspects of the previous guidance was unclear and ambiguous, and that revised guidance should be simpler and easy to understand.”

Straight from the Trump playbook: The Greens

Greens employment spokesperson Adam Bandt MP slammed reports in The Australian that the Turnbull government will impose restrictions on public servants criticising his government on social media.

"There must have been a few paragraphs missing from the leaked Trump/Turnbull transcript, because this latest crackdown on the public service is straight from the Trump playbook," said Mr Bandt.

"If anyone challenges Trump, they get fired. Malcolm Turnbull, in his desperation to hang onto power, is trying to do the same.

"Holding public servants responsible for what others post on their page is the stuff of the thought police. Your job shouldn't be in danger because someone shares a post on your page about marriage equality or action on climate change and you don't delete it.

"This is a ruthless assault on freedom of speech that would make any demagogue proud.”

The guide, Making public comment on social media: A guide for employees, is available here.
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Labor’s most recent televisual forays have landed Opposition Bill Mr Shorten and renegade senator Sam Mr Dastyari in hot water with some voters.

A shiny-suited Mr Shorten fronted a television ad previewed on 9NEWS on Sunday night, shown only in Queensland and appearing to pander to Pauline Hanson’s support base or persuade swinging voters.

It featured the Trumpian slogan “Australia First” and attacked 457 visas and overseas workers.

But trouble erupted after viewers noticed that of the twelve people in the ad supposed to represent Australian workers and variously decked out as tradies, admin staff and medics, only one was not white: an Asian women.

Mr Shorten says in the ad: “A Shorten Labor government will build Australian first, buy Australian first and employ Australians first”, echoing the ads rather sinister undertones of the White Australia policy from the 1950s and 60s.

Labor copped it on on social media yesterday with many people levelling accusations of racism, which Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen conceded was “appalling” but underlined it was a “rare misstep” for the Opposition leader on Lateline last night.

One Facebook commentator said: “In this increasingly divisive "us & them" world, political campaigns like this peddle peoples' prejudices when they should be challenging them.”

Another added:  “Is he trying Trump’s strategy? Attempting to appeal to the overwhelming number of redneck Australian voters that deep down really believe they are 'owed' something for having lighter skin.”

However, others waded in to defend the Labor leader on social media.

One person said: “Everyone tries their best to be offended these days, they call anyone who disagrees with them 'racist' so the word has lost all credibility now, and when something is genuinely 'racist' everyone ignores it, it doesn't take much to cause a race storm in a teacup these days, you can thank political correctness for that.”

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese called the ad “a shocker” and said “it should never have been produced and it should never have been shown”, intensifying speculation that he was jostling for the party leadership, a ballot he lost against Mr Shorten in 2013.

It later emerged that it was highly probable that Mr Shorten’s office had seen and approved the ad before it aired. Mr Shorten himself would not confirm or deny this but called criticisms of the ad “a fair cop”.

Meanwhile, Senator Sam Mr Dastyari caused his own social media storm after he hopped on board a Bill Shorten campaign bus to travel to three of Sydney’s outer suburbs and bemoan what $1 million buys in the city’s overheated real estate market.

In the short film, which went viral, Mr Dastyari holds up examples of seemingly undesirable homes or locations which nevertheless attract a million buck price tag.

He says: “Everyone loves talking about house prices but what does a million dollars in Sydney actually buy you? Not much.”

In the northwest suburb of Ryde he stands outside a house and says:  “Immaculately kept, as it’s been told, and on one of the busiest roads in Sydney, to boot.

“And you know if it’s got security shutters you’re onto a good thing”.

The three-bed home on Lane Cove Road sold at auction for $1.3 million last weekend.

The film then cuts to a vacant block in Toongabbie.

“People like to talk about how a generation of young people are being picky. We are an hour and 20 away in peak-hour traffic from the CBD of Sydney and all a million bucks will buy you is essentially a block of land across the road from not only a power station but also the train line.”

A scene filmed in Northmead is just as bleak, as Mr Dastyari sits atop a pile of furniture left out for kerbside collection to deliver his next tirade.

"This is what a million dollars will buy you in Northmead but it's ok because it's described as having a functional kitchen. For a f---ing million dollars you'd like to think the kitchen would work," he says, before piling old furniture into the campaign bus.

"If you gotta save a million bucks, you gotta be prepared to be a little bit frugal.”

He goes on to calculate that a $1 million mortgage for a modest Sydney home would mean $1050 a week in repayments at today’s interest rates and if these went up by one per cent repayments would increase to $1200.

But the video led to some viewers accusing him of snobbery and of ridiculing people’s houses while others criticised him for not offering a solution to the problem.

“Seriously, imagine if that was your house and some halfwit stood outside it critiquing what you'd worked your whole life for,” said one.

“This is offensive. Running around disrespecting peoples’ homes. And who hasn't salvaged furniture from the street? @samMr Dastyari is a snob” said another.

However, others praised him for highlighting the affordable housing problem.

“Sam, it's about time someone said the truth, the real estate agents have not only auctioned our homes to get higher prices, but they've auctioned our dignity away, and you're bloody right, a million dollar house should have a fully functioning … EVERYTHING… you said what we've all thought.”

Mr Dastyari said that it was never his attention to upset anyone but to shine a spotlight on housing affordability.

“If it takes me swearing on Facebook to draw attention to housing affordability, then I welcome it,” he told news.com.au.

“It was never my intention to offend anyone,” he said. “It was only my intention to highlight how obscene house prices in Sydney have become.”

Mr Bowen made reference to Mr Dastyari’s “edgy communication style” on Lateline last night but did not criticise the video.
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                    [post_content] => Woman worried about financial problems. Jobless or to many bills

 

Pressure is escalating on the Turnbull government to suspend its $4 billion Centrelink debt recovery mission, as accusations pile up that Human Services wrongly targeted welfare claimants, or exaggerated the debts they owed, using inaccurate data.

A social media campaign #notmydebt is sharing stories of individual’s debt letters and the effect it has had on them.

One woman said she finally broke down while speaking to a third Centrelink employee after the agency incorrectly paid her the full-time benefit rate while she was a part-time student, despite her repeatedly advising them otherwise. She was wrongly told she owed $400.

The woman told the Centrelink employee that the debt – which he later admitted was an error - had compounded the pressure she was already under as a single mum with a number of health problems who had only recently plucked up the courage to divorce her abusive ex-husband.

She said the way she was treated by one Centrelink staff member was appalling. She said the employee was “spiteful” and did not show her compassion, leaving her feeling humiliated.

“At the end of the day he took something from me as a human being. He also acknowledged that Centrelink had erred and he suggested that if ever it were to happen again, perhaps I should spend the money!

“He suggested I appeal it but what more can I do? My health can't handle any more of this. I am scared they'd nit-pick for something else to add to my debt. My heart goes out to all those who received outrageously high amounts. I hope you take them to the cleaners and put up the fight that I'm unable to.”

One man, who has Cushing Disease, said he “had a meltdown” after Centrelink told him he owed $5500. He said Centrelink overpaid him $440 in sickness benefits in 2013 but he forgot about it after he did not receive the promised Centrelink letter asking him to repay it. But the debt ended up morphing into a much larger amount.

He said: “This makes my flight fight response work at high level 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. Any amount of stress and my body shuts down and I become ill. The last 4 yrs have been hell.”

He later tried to report the inflated debt online but had terrible trouble trying to find out how he could give detailed, nuanced answers, instead being asked to respond yes or no to questions.

“I can understand Centrelink wanting to ensure people getting benefits are getting what they are supposed to," he said. "Yes I am a taxpayer. But the way they are going about it is so wrong!!

“They think it's ok to send out thousands of letters to people who have done the right thing. Yet here they are having panic attacks, chest pain and becoming physically ill when they receive such letters.”

One student said that Centrelink acted act like “a giant debt collection agency with no proper process or justice” after being asked to repay $1200 of Newstart allowance and charged a 10 per cent recovery fee.

The student said this figure was later reduced to 10 per cent of the original figure by the agency. 

“I can barely breathe when I think about this. My time period to pay is up tomorrow. I asked them for proof before I pay and I have heard horror stories of debt collection agencies, people being asked to pay so much, people being told there will be a black mark on their credit. I am so terrified. It's so stupid for me to be terrified but I can't help it. I am a student, I can't afford anything!”

Meanwhile, the Opposition and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) have called on the government to shut down the process, which has been driven by matching ATO and Centrelink data, while its 20 per cent error rate is examined. About 170,000 letters have been issued since the beginning of the financial year based on auto-matched data from the ATO and Centrelink.

Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave has pledged to investigate the matter.

A Commonwealth Ombudsman spokesperson said: “Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave confirms he is aware of the concerns raised about the automated data matching system used by Centrelink. Mr Neave has commenced an own-motion investigation into the matter and is considering the issues on a systemic level. The Ombudsman conducts own-motions in private and accordingly, cannot comment on any specific details."

The Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints about government officials, agencies and departments. 

CPSU Assistant National Secretary Michael Tull called the scheme “an absolute nightmare” for thousands of innocent Centrelink customers and the agency's staff, who he said were already overstretched and attempting to cope with the fallout.

“The serious problems with this debt recovery program are piling on even more pressure, and feeding more aggression from understandably frustrated customers,” Mr Tull said.

“We hold very serious concerns about Centrelink’s ability to cope in coming months. There’s a perfect storm of work, with this debt recovery scheme likely to be just part of the problem.

“This debt recovery scheme needs to be urgently suspended until the significant problems with it can be identified and fixed, and particularly with an even more heavy caseload coming for staff because of the pension cuts and as people need Centrelink’s support to commence their studies.”

He said union members working at Centrelink had told the union that “in almost every case the poor customer ends up owing nothing, or just a fraction of the debt claimed.”

“In at least one case an initial debt for $9,000 ended up being $90. That’s not a minor discrepancy but a clear sign of a failed system.”

He called on the government to make Centrelink’s casual staff permanent so that they could be fully used to deal with the “deluge” of work.
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                    [post_content] =>  Census2_opt

 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has taken to social media to reassure people they will not be fined if they complete the Census late because they’ve lost their log-in details.

The Census Australia Facebook page has been inundated with people who have not been able to get through to the helpline or by email to request the 12-digit log-in code needed to complete the Census online or to request a paper form, after losing their log-in details.

One worried person said: “I have emailed a few days ago and have the email support number and nothing else and have also turned my house upside down searching for the letter with login.”

Another said they had spent four days emailing and calling but had not received a response.

The anxiety of the Facebook posters was evident as the queries piled up online.

“I've been emailing and calling all week with no reply or answer. I have not received my letter and wish for someone to contact me ASAP” and another “Have sent two emails as I have moved and can't access my old place hence no pin. Would really like to get an email back so I don't get fined.”

One poster was more blunt: “Census Australia your online idea is not working it won't let me log in it’s stuck on trying to get the page and left waiting on a blank page that won't change. We should now fine you $ 180 per day until you fix the problem.”

Other people were determined not to complete the Census online and insisted on a paper form because they feared computer hackers would access their personal data.

“2 weeks Census, 2 bloody weeks no-one has been able to get through on ANY of the numbers on the initial letter with our code that was sent to request the paper form to be sent out.

“So much for requiring accurate information from us if you can't answer the dam (sic) phones!
And no, I will not be using the online form, this year’s Census is riddled with enough privacy issues, let alone with the issue of online security!”

There were also some sad and sorry Census tales, including one woman having to blow dry her Census form after her dog urinated all over it and a man who claimed he had dropped his form down the toilet.

But the Bureau has remained steadfastly unruffled in the face of all the ‘a dog ate my homework’ excuses.

“You will not be fined for accurately completing and returning your census after census night,” many of its posts said.

“Don't worry, there is plenty of time to complete the Census and you won't be fined for being late. We would recommend calling back after August 10 to avoid long wait times. You could also submit a request via our online contact form.”

The online form is open until 24 September. The ABS said people would receive reminder letters and that Census field officers would visit households that hadn’t completed the Census to make sure everyone was counted.

This year’s Census – Australia’s 17th national headcount - has been mired in controversy after the ABS announced that it would keep data for up to four years and potentially cross-match it with other data sets, instead of destroying after processing, as has happened previously,

Some have taken umbrage with the fact that data linkages keys will be kept indefinitely, which could mean some information, e.g. such as birthplace or religion, could be auto-filled when completing the next survey or used to link Census data to medical, criminal and administrative records.

However, ABS Census chief Duncan Young has insisted that linkage keys are not released to a third party, that researchers would not see the keys and that the Bureau would be in charge of the linking.

Young has maintained that linkage keys, the ability to use linkage keys to link data sets and the data sets themselves are three, mutually exclusive steps and that no one person can access more than one of these steps.

The federal Minister responsible for the Census, Michael McCormack has also waded in - after earlier criticisms from the Opposition accusing him of going AWOL – and tried to soothe the public backlash against the survey.

"I think we're making far too much of this, names and addresses and privacy breaches," McCormack said.

"Anybody with a supermarket loyalty card, anybody who does tap-and-go, anybody who buys things online, they provide more information indeed probably to what is available to ABS staff."

But organisations such as the Australian Privacy Foundation have not been mollified by his response and privacy concerns have also led to a handful of senators, led by Nick Xenophon, refusing to put their names on Census forms and risking a fine of up to $180 per day.

Census Australia’s Facebook page justified the Bureau’s requirement for people to add their names saying it resulted in better data quality and helped households record the relevant information for each person.

“Having names on the form also helps the ABS to identify if any people were missed during the Census, or accidently counted twice,” said the online response.

“It can also assist in improving the quality of data we produce on families, especially where complex relationships, like blended families, exist. International studies have demonstrated that an anonymous Census results in poor quality data.”
                    [post_title] => Best of 2016: ABS moves to quell Census panic on social media
                    [post_excerpt] => Lost log-ins melt hotline.
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                    [post_content] => Florence, Italy - March 12, 2011: Woman hand holding a smart phone with twitter application. Twitter is a website, owned and operated by Twitter Inc, which offers a social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read messages called tweets for 140 letters. The smart phone is an HTC HD2 Leo.

 

Australia’s local councils are being encouraged to show off the diversity of their services on national Local Government Twitter Day using the hashtag #yourratesatwork, a hashtag which may have an oddly familiar ring to many.

It is eerily similar to the 2005 trade union campaign Your Rights at Work, a campaign which proved the nail in the coffin against Prime Minister John Howard’s WorkChoices.

The hashtag #yourrightsatwork is still floating around on Twitter but now it is more commonly used in relation to underpaid workers and proposals to slash penalty rates.

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) is running the Twitterfest on August 3, following successful 2014 Twitter trials in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

ALGA will be hoping to beat the 2014 national Local Government Twitter Day statistics, which recorded about 2,100 tweets and 950 retweets and had more than 500 separate Twitter users participating nationwide.

The aim is to showcase the huge range of services that Australian local government provides and to boost public awareness of the important work that councils do by grouping feeds under a common hashtag.

ALGA said: “Getting involved makes no additional resource demands on councils but rather encourages you to add the common hashtag to tweets and for your posts on the day to show the diversity of local services undertaken or supported by councils from the first task of the day to the last task of the day.

“You may choose to post three times on the day or once an hour - it's up to you.”

All tweets using the hashtag will be aggregated at: http://www.lga.sa.gov.au/mycouncil
                    [post_title] => Tweet your worth, councils told
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                    [post_content] => John Lord - GBG_opt

[Guest Opinion: John Lord, Managing Director, GBG – Global specialist in Identity Data Intelligence and certified Identity Assurance provider for the UK Government’s GOV.UK Verify program] 

Regardless of the political party in power, the Australian Government appears committed to the path of enabling the nation to take full advantage of a digitised economy. It constantly continues to make strides by investing in digital projects to foster a culture of innovation, and a workforce and society that recognises both the challenges and opportunities presented by digitisation. Recent examples of this include the work done around the NBN roll-out, the mandate of the Digital Transformation Office (DTO), and the recent National Cyber Security Strategy Review.

The increased digitisation of government services, coupled with the complexity of the cyber threat landscape, is making the management of Australian citizens and resident’s digital identities a priority both for efficiency and security.

This is why the DTO has recently decided to follow the footsteps of other governments, the UK in particular, to find ways to address the online identification challenge. As part of this process, the DTO is currently looking at using the services of third-party certified Identification Assurance (IDA) providers.


The DTO’s concerns
As part of the Australian Government’s digitisation plans, and because of the increased availability of government services online, a massive amount of data is now managed in the cloud.

Medical records are moving to an online space as well as Medicare rebates, with sensitive information now accessible to doctors and healthcare professionals across Australia. With access to so much private data online, it is imperative that identifying patient or client information is done with a very high level of precaution and privacy.

Similarly, citizens are now able to pay most of their local government, tax, infringement notices, births, deaths and marriages registrations and other government expenses online.

Many of these interactions with government agencies provide access and information about vital identifying information which would compromise data security if breached. With the expanded use of connected devices and wearable technology, the surface of potential attacks will probably increase in the coming years.

In this context, it is vital that the Government is able to certify each citizen’s identity with a high level of security no matter where, when and through which device or channel they access online services.

What is our digital identity made of and how can we protect it?
The amount of identifying data available online is astounding. In the next five minutes, or the time it takes to read this article, globally more than one billion emails will be sent; over 20 million Google searches will be conducted; at least 10 million pieces of content will be shared and more than $12.5 million in online sales will be transacted. Added to which, over 1,200 babies will be born, creating 1,200 brand new identities that will need protection.

The data which we think builds our identity is typically associated with standard “name, address, passport, and banking” information. However in a connected world where we are increasingly leaving a digital footprint, our transaction history, mobile device usage and data such as IP addresses and social IDs mean the identity verification process has evolved and will continue to do so.

Understanding and appropriately utilising this myriad of identifying data is the key to building stronger identification assurance solutions, especially for government organisations who have access to much of their citizens’ most sensitive information.

Best practice identity assurance includes triangulating sources of identity data and verifying somebody is who they say they are through a multitude of checks, including address and financial history, personal knowledge, and document validation. Two-factor verification is an element of this – in other words being asked for something you know as well as proving something you own. For example, you know your username and password, but you need to own a mobile phone to which a security code is sent.

When you consider that you can unlock your phone with a fingerprint, access telephone-based services faster with the addition of voice recognition and that your passport is linked to a retina scan, it is apparent that biometric data will play an increasing role in the future of account login, working in conjunction with secure identity verification techniques at the point we register for services.

No matter the actual techniques and strategies used, if the Government wants to be efficient in securing millions of Australian citizens’ digital identities, it is key that it collaborates with third-party certified Identity Assurance (IDA) providers.

Working with certified providers means there is no burden of a central Government-owned database containing all its citizens’ up to date information. Security can be ensured through a solution that can verify an individual is who they say they are by referencing on demand multiple datasets from a number of accredited sources. In the UK, the ground-breaking GOV.UK Verify program has benefited from a competitive model, drawing from private sector knowledge and expertise in order to drive innovation in the development and provision of the service.

Next steps for the DTO
The Digital Transformation Office is currently assessing the need for certified Identity Assurance providers, with Deloitte commissioned to undertake the initial market research and a Request for Information from local and international businesses has recently been published.

For the Government to fully succeed in its digital plans for the future, trust is key. It is imperative that people not only feel safe to migrate traditional services online, but that they actually are safe and that their most personal information remains private and the risk of breach is mitigated.

IDA is vital to the future of government services in Australia, and selecting the right IDA providers is a very important task for the DTO. Whatever outcomes are determined, the next few months will be key to the successful expansion of online and mobile government services.

 
                    [post_title] => Managing Australian citizens' digital identities: a priority for the DTO
                    [post_excerpt] => Third parties want to play.
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                    [post_content] => ap-facebook-dislike-kb-141212-16x9-992-jpg

 

NSW residents have swarmed onto the Facebook sites of newly merged councils to vent their frustration after being denied the opportunity to oppose mass council sackings and council mergers.

Some of the state’s 19 new councils have already created new Facebook pages, despite only coming into being on Monday this week.

Harmonised websites are a work in progress, presumably because there is more work involved but also because many transactions with councils, like paying rates and charges, go through them.

The Facebook page of the new Inner West Council – a mix of Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils in Sydney’s Inner West – has become a focal point for disenfranchised residents and already caused problems for Administrator Richard Pearson, a former Deputy Director General of Planning NSW.

Many residents were in no mood to join in with the upbeat Facebook posts from the new council.

In reply to one of the council’s first posts, which asked: “notice anything different?” one resident replied:  “Yes, we noticed the blatant disregard for democratically elected officials”, while another commented: “So weird, I have absolutely no memory of voting to elect this council.”

Today (Friday) the Greens accused ‘the administration’ of the new Inner West Council of expunging criticisms about the deeply unpopular WestConnex project from its Facebook page, following tip-offs at a public meeting on WestConnex in Balmain.

IWC_optGreens MP David Shoebridge said: "These three councils have been a thorn in the side of Baird's plans to bulldoze WestConnex through the inner west, so it's little wonder he wanted to censor them.

“All three former Inner West Councils have had strong opposition to the WestConnex project, that is championed by Planning NSW, and it is clear that this history of opposition to the unpopular WestConnex is now being silenced and erased.”

“Going back in time and removing posts that are critical of the Baird government has a terrible Orwellian feel to it. Political censorship should have no place in 21st century Australia.

"These Councils have been under Premier Baird’s new administration for less than a week and we are already seeing efforts to silence and erase local opposition to WestConnex."

But it appears that the real explanation may be a little less scandalous and that idiosyncrasies of Facebook – and not dubious intervention from Mr Pearson or council staff – are to blame.

The Inner West Council posted a statement on its Facebook page earlier today which said it had been notified that some posts about WestConnex had been removed.

“Council officers did not remove these posts, and were not directed to do so by new Administrator Richard Pearson.

“On investigation it was discovered that Facebook routinely ‘hides’ posts from timelines after a certain period of time.”

The council said that many other posts from February were also no longer visible including posts about free events, ANZAC Day commemorations and a neighbourhood garage sale.

“Council is not aware of when this happened – whether recently or months ago. It is very easy to unhide posts on a Facebook profile, but harder to unhide posts on a page. Council officers have contacted Facebook to find out how to reinstate the posts.”

The negative WestConnex posts have now returned, with several going up in the last few hours.

Greens Member for Newtown and WestConnex spokesperson Jenny Leong said Mr Pearson should uphold the three former councils' previous position on WestConnex and vocally oppose the development.

"When I met with the new Administrator yesterday he said that the position of the Inner West Council in relation to WestConnex was yet to be determined,” Ms Leong said.

“This is despite the fact that I made it very clear that the three former councils that make up the new council had a unanimous position opposing WestConnex.”
                    [post_title] => Facebook stoush erupts over new Inner West Council
                    [post_excerpt] => When social media turns sour.
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Human Services is appealing to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) because it wants to sack a Centrelink employee who exposed the Department for giving false information about Centrelink waiting times and referred to clients as “spastics” and “junkies.”

Daniel Starr was fired in October last year after 21 years in the job after being caught disputing posts from the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) social media unit on a Whirlpool forum.

DHS staff posted on the forum that youth allowance claims took a minimum of 21 days to process but Mr Starr said the benchmark was at least double the time – 42 days - and the Department was “doing nothing other than giving people false hope, and increasing customer traffic.”

His post, under the alias of user “mmmdl” sparked a Human Services manhunt in April 2015, after the department trawled through his online posts and pieced together information he’d let slip, including his age (39), where he lived (opposite the Telstra tower in Corrimal), how long he’d worked for the department and that he had an overseas trip booked in May.

Human Services investigators tracked down some of Mr Starr’s previous Whirlpool posts, the most controversial being one from 2012 where he labelled long-term unemployed clients ¬“spastics and junkies” and accused some of his co-workers of being ¬“utterly useless” and unemployable.

He laid into senior staff too, saying: “I honestly have zero idea what all our managers do ¬especially the higher managers. None at all.”

While the Commission was critical of Mr Starr’s negative comments about clients and the DHS and said he had breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct it found his sacking was too harsh and ordered that he be reinstated.

The FWC found that APS staff were not required to be respectful of the government outside of working hours, something the DHS has taken issue with.

The Department is now appealing against the ruling and said it expected its staff “to behave at all times in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity of the APS.”

“The department’s staff social media policy makes it clear employees may face sanctions if online interactions are found to have breached the APS Code of Conduct,” said the DHS statement.

“However, it should be noted the department takes it very seriously when a staff member uses derogatory and offensive language such as “spastics” and “junkies” to describe customers and will take disciplinary action in line with our policies.”
                    [post_title] => Human Services wants Centrelink loose cannon sacked
                    [post_excerpt] => DHS appeals reinstatement of Centrelink employee.
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                    [post_content] => Better Bendigo

Bendigo Council is using bad eighties hairstyles and social media to fight racism and promote tolerance.

The Victorian council has grappled with anti-Muslim sentiment since it approved the city’s first mosque and cultural centre in August last year.

A month later, a group of protestors disrupted a Bendigo Council meeting during a discussion about the mosque and began chanting, swearing and shouting. Councillors ended up being escorted by police from the meeting.

In October, anti-Muslim rallies occurred in the city, although the council said at the time it suspected the rallies were hijacked by demonstrators from elsewhere in Victoria or interstate and involved few Bendigo locals.

The backlash against the new mosque has made the city a flashpoint for anti-Muslim protestors on wider issues too, such as immigration and the certification of halal food, but Bendigo Council is tackling this using a humourous social media campaign ‘For a Better Bendigo’ on Facebook and Instagram.

The campaign’s Facebook page bears the strapline: “Some things should be left in the past: 80s mullets, man perms, racism and intolerance” and it is accompanied by a photograph of three men, all with lavishly large hairstyles, downing beers in the pub.

The campaign, which local young people helped design, encourages residents to think about the city’s future and the legacy they would like to leave behind.

Bendigo Mayor Rod Fyffe said councils should engage their communities in discussions about multiculturalism.

“The city is excited to lead a campaign like this and harness the community spirit we know and are proud of – an inclusive and welcoming one," Mr Fyffe said.

“Council’s vision is about all of us working together to make Bendigo the most liveable regional city in Australia. Certainly as we see it, there’s no place for intolerance in our future.”

The council's anti-racist Facebook page is in contrast to some of the other Facebook groups that have sprung up, including Stop the Mosque in Bendigo, which has 22,400 followers.

Mr Fyffe said that Bendigo had “a rich multicultural history” with 13 per cent of the city’s population born overseas and international tourism brought in $12 million to the local economy a year.

The campaign was launched today (Wednesday) and included some of Strathfieldsaye Football Netball Club’s senior football team players.

Co-coach Darryl Wilson said multiculturalism was a cause that firmly resonated with the club.

“We pride ourselves on supporting our community and our local people, and multiculturalism is something we’re always very happy to get behind,” Mr Wilson said.

The campaign was funded with support from the Victorian state government and photos and stories will be shared on social media until the end of April.
                    [post_title] => Man perms and mullets front Bendigo anti-racist social media campaign
                    [post_excerpt] => Bendigo Council battles islamophobia.

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                    [post_content] => Brandis5

A Facebook and Twitter campaign by the arts community that aims to depose federal Arts Minister George Brandis and undo his plans for a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) is gathering momentum.

In the May budget, Mr Brandis redirected $105 million of Australia Council funding into the newly established NPEA, to be administered directly by the Ministry for the Arts.

Under the revised grant program, grants would be offered to organisations - not individual artists - with more money flowing to the large performing arts companies, such as Opera Australia and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and away from small to medium-sized arts organisations. Under the new model there would be fewer funding rounds and less money available.

Orchestrated by Australians for Artistic Freedom under the hashtag #freethearts, the social media campaign has issued a plea to newly-minted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to sack Mr Brandis and hand back funding to the Australia Council.

The post said:
“Hey everyone. We need as many people as we can to write to Malcolm Turnbull today and call on him to ditch George Brandis and the NPEA and send the money back to the Australia Council. "Maybe he [Turnbull] would like to take on being Arts Minister?

“This is our chance to get this thing fixed right now so spread the word and gets lots of people onto[it] as soon as you can.”

The Arts Minister has been widely criticised by the arts community for his abrupt funding decision, with many accusing him of compromising the Council’s deep knowledge of the arts and its independence when making funding decisions.

Some have also attacked the minister for attempting to fund pet projects to the detriment of the smaller arts companies, arguing that these have been the springboards for major industry players in the past; including theatre and film director Neil Armfield, who started out at Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre Company, or Circus Oz stage director Debra Batton, who began her career at Legs on the Wall.

But the campaign's chances of success appear slim. Mr Brandis publicly declared his support for Mr Turnbull before Monday night's vote and #freethearts will not be a lone voice of appeal. Mr Turnbull has already been bombarded with requests to undo some of Tony Abbott’s work since he replaced him as Prime Minister earlier this week, with calls on him to reverse cuts to international aid, parental leave, family payments and the Medicare safety net, among a host of other pleas.

The appointment of Mr Brandis as Arts Minister has already spawned an explosion of social media activity, including Twitter account #Theartofbrandis, which positions Mr Brandis in a range of satirical poses with comedic headlines.

Brandis6

There is a senate inquiry currently underway into arts funding, which is due to report on 26 November. The inquiry will examine the potential impact of Mr Brandis’ funding decision on individual artists, emerging artists, small to medium arts organisations, private sector philanthropy and the Australia Council, among other bodies. It will also look at the NPEA’s funding criteria and processes.

 
                    [post_title] => Social media campaign aims to topple Arts Minister George Brandis
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                    [post_content] => yay! tourist picture!

Tourism Australia (TA) is seeking a Chinese IT and media agency to help it spearhead a new marketing campaign to attract more Chinese tourists to holiday in Australia.

Chinese tourism is already the fastest growing and most valuable inbound market to Australia: about 789,000 Chinese tourists visited Australia in the year to September 2014 – up ten per cent from the year before - and they spent a whopping $5.4 billion.

Chinese visitors eclipsed visitor numbers from every other country, except New Zealand, and they stayed longer and significantly outspent tourists from every other country.

It’s a lucrative market that is poised to become even more profitable in years to come. Figures recently released by Tourism Australia suggest that annual spending by Chinese visitors to Australia could rise to $13 billion annually by 2020 and TA wants to ensure numbers continue to build.

TA request for tender on the Austender website said that it was looking for an agency located in China which was “deeply experienced in delivering large scale responsive websites, including support and hosting capabilities; through to creative development of online, mobile and social media campaigns” to reach, engage and target consumers with “the idea of an Australian holiday”. Other requirements include local representation in Shanghai and extensive knowledge of the local market in mainland China.

Tourism Australia is deadly serious about increasing its hold on the Chinese tourism market and it has focused its efforts over the years. It launched the consumer website Austrlia.cn in 2012, which included Sina Weibo, a microblogging website and Youku, an official TA video space and last November.

In November last year it ran a six-day media campaign on Weibo following the country’s president, Xi Jinping and his wife as they toured around Australia. Named ‘Dada’s Visit to Australia’ (the nickname the Chinese have given their president, like papa) the campaign focused on Australian food and culture as the presidential couple travelled to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Tasmania.

The campaign also got interactive by asking Chinese people living in Australia or who had visited the country to make travel and food recommendations as the couple journeyed. The campaign attracted 120 million visitors to TA’s Weibo website and secured a 300 per cent increase in traffic.

Food and wine were also the focus during a Tourism Australia dinner for 400 “influencers” held in Shanghai last November which showcased Australian food and wine. The importance of the Chinese tourism dollar is not lost on the federal government either with Prime Minister Tony Abbott announcing earlier this week that Chinese travellers can now get multiple entry three-year tourist visas. Prior to this visas had to be guaranteed by travel agents.

Engaging a Chinese company to help mount a successful marketing campaign should help Tourism Australia gain a deeper understand of how to make Australia more appealing to Chinese tourists and to better target marketing.

Brian Hennessy and Yirong Li from Chinese-Australian company China Australia Consult, which prepares individuals and companies for living and doing business in China, said Chinese tourists had a particular way of approaching overseas holidays.

They said Chinese tourists would want to cram in as many sights as possible in order to boast about their visit on their return and to gain 'face'.

“Unfortunately, our guests may not be interested in delving too deeply into Western culture. And they will not want to spend a lot of time enjoying just a few very interesting attractions. Instead, they would prefer to sample as many local attractions that they can possibly fit into their tight schedule. This way they believe that they will be getting their money’s worth.”

Like other visitors, they would be keen to experience Australia's natural beauty but they would be likely to avoid acquiring a tan, since many associated this with peasants.

“If we reflect on where Chinese people are coming from – a Confucian mono-culture with a totalitarian government, and crowded mega-cities with polluted skies and unsafe water – it should come as no surprise to learn that as well as visiting our natural wonders, they will also want to experience our relaxing, healthy, lifestyle."

Mr Hennessy and Ms Li said many Chinese tourists would put shopping near the top of their to-do lists, since family, friends and colleagues expected gifts on their return. Trying different food and cuisines would also be near the top of the list.

“Although famous brand items can be purchased in any large city in China, items purchased abroad accrue more face and are less likely to be fake. They will also want to buy local iconic products – particularly those associated with native flora and fauna,” they said.

The two even have some suggestions for Australian retailers when dealing with Chinese tourists.

“Give them a warm welcome and a lot of attention. Offer to assist. Target group leaders – the rest might follow. Expect them to bargain and do whatever you need to do to make them think that they are getting a good deal. For example; add a token gift to the purchase (old stock that won’t move, a dashboard kangaroo, or a humble koala key-ring)," they said.
                    [post_title] => Tourism Australia hunts for Chinese company to push Australia to mainland tourists
                    [post_excerpt] => Tourism Australia to boost Chinese visitor numbers.
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                    [post_content] => Twitter

The issue of where to draw boundary lines for free speech both inside and outside the workplace is again in the headlines. Marcus Priest maps out where the legal thinking is headed for the public sector.

Where does work finish and your private life start? This is becoming an increasingly difficult question to answer as the internet and social media completely remake the Australian workplace.

Traditionally, the boundaries between work and private life have been clear. But what was just once a comment after work between a few mates over a beer, or over the family dining table, can be broadcast to everyone else in the world over Twitter or Facebook.

It is a change that companies and courts are increasingly grappling with, given the associated corporate reputational damage that can result from workers publicly criticising their employers and the associated comments from their friends. Courts and tribunals are increasingly prepared to find there is no demarcation between private and public worlds.

And it is not just comments made by an employee but also comments posted in response to those comments on their Facebook page.

The issue has again been raised with the release of new rules for Commonwealth public servants using social media, whether in a personal or professional capacity. Public servants are also expected to report colleagues who breach the new guidelines.

Predictably, especially in the context of a political debate over amendments to racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, there has been an outcry over the muzzling of freedom of speech.

However, it does raise an important issue: to what extent can employers dictate to their workers what they can do in their personal lives on social media?

As an active user of social media, I have always taken the approach that I will not tweet what I am not prepared to see reported in a newspaper; whether people realise it or not, a tweet is as much a publication as a newspaper.

The possible consequences of not following that rule were recently illustrated in a case where a Sydney teenager was found to have defamed a former teacher on Twitter and ordered to pay $105,000 in damages. Judge Elkaim said when defamatory publications were made on social media it was common knowledge that they spread.

''Their evil lies in the grapevine effect that stems from the use of this type of communication".

However, defamation laws are just one example of the ways in which Australian laws qualify an individual's so-called "freedom of speech" (in reality, there is no such legally recognised right in Australia).

Another may be where an existing contractual relationship exists between parties, particularly an employment one.

In employment contracts, there is an implied promise by the employer not to damage or destroy the relationship of trust and confidence between the parties, without reasonable cause. It is a well-established fiduciary relationship.

According to Justices McTiernan and Dickson, in the High Court in Blyth Chemicals Ltd v Bushnell (1933) 49 CLR 66, this duty is breached when the conduct of an employee involves "incompatibility, conflict, or impediment, [with the duty] or be destructive of confidence".

"Conduct which in respect of important matters is incompatible with the fulfilment of an employee's duty, or involves an opposition, or conflict between his interest and his duty to his employer, or impedes the faithful performance of his obligations, or is destructive of the necessary confidence between employer and employee, is a ground of dismissal... An actual repugnance between his acts and his relationship must be found. It is not enough that ground for uneasiness as to future conduct arises."

This duty of fidelity and to "well and faithfully serve" the firm has traditionally arisen in the context of cases involving the unauthorised use of confidential information or working for competitors. But now, when employees have imprudently expressed comments critical of their employer outside of work, it is being ventilated. And courts and tribunals are increasingly willing to uphold the termination of an employee on the basis of a breach of the duty of loyalty.

In one case before the Federal Court, former Commonwealth public servant Michaela Banerji is fighting her sacking for posting comments on Twitter, under a pseudonym, critical of the previous government's policies. Banerji unsuccessfully argued her employment conditions – including that she behaved "honestly and with integrity" – were subject to the implied constitutional freedom of political communication.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Warwick Neville found such an unfettered right does not exist and is instead a burden on legislative power. Even if such a right did exist, it did not provide a licence to breach an employment contract, which included a ban on outside work.

Similarly, the Fairwork Australia Commission noted in the case of hair-dresser Sally-Anne Fitzgerald that it was "well accepted that behaviour outside working hours may have an impact on employment."

FWA found for Ms Fitzgerald, highlighting that "posting comments about an employer on a website (Facebook) that can be seen by an uncontrollable number of people is no longer a private matter but a public comment."

"Postings on Facebook and the general use of social networking sites by individuals to display their displeasure with their employer or a co-worker are becoming more common."

"A Facebook posting, while initially undertaken outside working hours, does not stop once work recommences. It remains on Facebook until removed, for anyone with permission to access the site to see... It would be foolish of employees to think they may say as they wish on their Facebook page with total immunity from any consequences."

However, Linfox last year unsuccessfully argued postings by an employee on Facebook breached the duty of loyalty in defending an unfair dismissal claim. Linfox employee Glenn Stutsel was sacked for allegedly posting racially derogatory remarks about a manager on his Facebook page. Offensive comments about a female manager were also posted on his page by a colleague. He claimed he thought his Facebook page was private, and Fair Work Commissioner Michael Roberts found in his favour.

"Comments he posted about terrorism and the death of a terrorist, were an expression of his private views," he said.

"I consider his comments to be within his right to free speech in such matters even though many, including myself, would find much of the Facebook discourse which is in evidence to be distasteful."

He further highlighted the company had no social media policy, which he said in the current electronic age was "not sufficient".

Linfox unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the Full Court of the Federal Court. While the company argued Stutsel's comments eroded the relationship of trust at the heart of the employment relationship, the full bench held no error has been exposed in the reasons for the decision of Fair Work Australia, let alone a jurisdictional error.

However, the Stutsel decision may be something of an anomaly, especially if an employer has implemented workplace rules and codes of conduct regarding use of social media, both at work and in private time. Late last year, Fairwork Australia Deputy President Sams upheld the termination of an employee of Credit Corp Group Limited.

The employee had posted comments critical of another organisation on its Facebook page and then posted sexually inappropriate comments on his own Facebook page. From his comments on their Facebook page, the other organisation traced the employee back to his and tipped his employer off about his offensive comments. While the employee had done so on a day off work and claimed he thought his Facebook page was private, DP Sams found his conduct amounted to a "repudiation" of his contract of employment with Credit Corp and referred to the comments of McTiernan and Dixon JJ. The fact he had made the comments in his own time was of "no consequence" and it was likely he could have been validly dismissed even if Credit Corp had not had a workplace code of conduct.

"It was inevitable with the seismic shift to the phenomenon of social media as a means of widespread instantaneous communication, that it would lead to new issues in the workplace. These include the extent of the use of social media while at work, the content of such communications and whether they be work or non-work related. Employers have had to respond to the new phenomenon with appropriate policies and codes of conduct - just as they had to respond to employees using work provided computers to receive, store or distribute inappropriate or non-work-related material."

"I hasten to add, the applicant is perfectly entitled to hold views about any organisation and to express such views in the public domain; but he is not entitled to do so in a manner which injures his employer's business relationship with that organisation."

The importance of employers implementing a workplace social media policy was highlighted in another recent case involving by Linfox. This time it had learnt its lesson from the previous proceedings and had in place a social media policy. Linfox took action against one of its employees, for – among other things – refusing to sign the policy. Commissioner Gregory was unswayed by the argument the policy impinged on the employee's private life.

"In an employment context the establishment of a social media policy is clearly a legitimate exercise in acting to protect the reputation and security of a business."

"I accept that there are many situations in which an employer has no right to seek to restrict or regulate an employee's activities away from work. However, in the context of the use of social media, and a policy intended to protect the reputation and security of a business, it is difficult to see how such a policy could operate in this constrained way. Is it suggested that an employer can have a policy in place that seeks to prevent employees from damaging the business's reputation or stopping them from releasing confidential information while at work, but leaving them free to pursue these activities outside of working hours?"

Marcus Priest is a lawyer for legal firm Spark Helmore (www.sparke.com.au) who advises government departments and agencies on major projects, corporate governance and administrative law. He was previously the Legal Editor of The Australian Financial Review and has worked across the legal sector, media organisations and as a federal policy advisor.
                    [post_title] => Do workers have the right to bad mouth their employers?
                    [post_excerpt] => Tweet in haste, repent at leisure. 
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                    [post_content] => Herlitz Monster-Talent Monster Rampe

Parents and children can rest easy in their beds knowing that a Children’s e-Safety Commissioner, charged with defending Australia’s children from cyber bullying, paedophiles and porn, will be created soon.

Paul Fletcher, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, has revealed that legislation is intended be introduced to Parliament later this year (2014) to create the new Commissioner’s role, part of whose mission is policing overseas social media websites and apps such as Facebook, Snapchat and ask.fm to pressure them to deal with issues like cyber bullying.

The aim of e-Safety Commissioner is to be the central point of contact for online safety issues, as well as being at the vanguard for corporate cyber responsibility and spring into action to remove harmful material fast from very large social media sites.

The new cyber-sanitation watchdog’s creation was a key Coalition election promise during the 2013 federal campaign. But it comes as anger continues to percolate over the axing of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, established in 1993, as part of Budget cuts.

Few would argue with the urgent need for better online child protection measures, but already questions are surfacing about what tangible impact the position might achieve, especially when it comes to dealing with multinational online businesses.

Jon Lawrence, executive officer of Electronic Frontiers Australia, a national non-governmental organisation which promotes digital freedom, is one online advocate yet to be fully convinced.

Mr Lawrence said companies behind apps like Snapchat, Kik Messenger and ask.fm would be nonchalant about the federal government’s newly-minted cyber superhero.

“Good luck with that. That’s where the real harm is happening these days [these apps] because they don’t have team of people dealing with this stuff,’’ Mr Lawrence said.

“The Australian government can pass any laws they like, these guys just won’t be paying any attention to it; especially if they don’t see any commercial benefit in doing it and they don’t have a presence in Australia. The government can’t even make Google pay taxes.”

Attempts to block access to these apps were likely to fail as technologically advanced teenagers immediately found ways to circumvent the ban.

A Department of Communications spokesman conceded that the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner would have no leverage with such companies.

“The Commissioner would not have any formal legislative sanctions it could apply to these small offshore sites, and any attempt to legislate such provisions would be an exercise in futility,” the spokesman said.

But they will get a polite knock on the door. The spokesman said the Commissioner would visit the head offices of companies running the newly emerging social sites that were “starting to have a presence in the lives of Australian children”.

The Commissioner’s polite list of demands will include: banning cyber bullying on social media sites accessible to children and ensuring companies had a complaints system in place.

However Mr Lawrence cautions that that interfering with big companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google was not necessary...and could actually backfire. He said larger companies were already very good at policing themselves because of the commercial imperative to be a trusted platform. Moreover, they already had teams of people on the ground in Australia dealing with complaints.

“They’re doing a pretty good job. They’re by no means perfect but if you look at the volume of the things they’re dealing with their success rate is pretty good. They don’t need encouragement,’’ he said.

Sometimes it’s a matter of being careful of what you wish for. Mr Lawrence cautioned people might swamp the new e-Safety Commissioner with complaints and in turn stop engaging with the systems that people like Facebook and YouTube had set up.

“Having the government coming in over the top doesn’t achieve much. There’s a danger of locking-in inflexible solutions that will be outdated before the legislation is written.”

But the Communications spokesman said people would be encouraged to complain to large social media sites, first and the Commissioner would only get involved as the last resort.

Electronic Frontiers Australia considers the most incendiary part of the policy to be the government intervening to remove online content itself.

“We are absolutely and completely opposed to direct content being removed. It’s a fundamental threat to free speech. Big sites already take down the bad stuff,” Mr Lawrence said.

Electric Frontiers reckons there could be some benefits to having a Commissioner, principally because they can co-ordinate government responses and education programs.

“There would be value in greater co-ordination in what’s going on and in there being a central point of escalation for people, for example, where people report something to Facebook and they don’t feel they have got a resolution.”

The Coalition policy Enhancing Online Safety for Children, released in September 2013, commits to a raft of measures, most of which directly involve the new commissioner.

Amongst these is a pledge was to create a simple, more specific cyber bullying offence; a commitment to funding online safety campaigns and working with mobile phone and internet service providers to produce software that filters out dubious material.

The May 2014 budget included $10 million earmarked for online safety for children, including $7.5 million for schools to access accredited online safety programs, $2.4 to establish the Office of the Children’s e‐Safety Commissioner and $100,000 to support Australian‐based research and information campaigns on online safety.

Even so plans to create a specific cyberbullying offence have been dropped, following consultation.
                    [post_title] => Never fear, the Children's e-Safety Commissioner is here
                    [post_excerpt] => Feds to police foreign social media, websites, apps
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                    [post_date] => 2014-04-22 13:32:16
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                    [post_content] => Parliament House, Canberra

By Stephen Sedgwick,  Australian Public Service Commissioner.

The Australian Public Service Commission, and the Public Service Board before that, has for many years issued guidance to public servants about making public comment on matters connected to their employment.

The current guidance interprets how long-standing principles should be viewed in the rapidly changing online world.

I therefore read with some disappointment The Canberra Times editorial on [April 14th], "Moral panic plagues the bureaucracy", which misrepresents Australian Public Service guidelines on public comment by members of the APS.

It is not the case, as the editorial implies, that there is a new guideline that warns staff they may breach the Public Service Act if they post harsh or extreme political comment.

As long ago as 1995, the commission advised public servants to beware of situations which might render public comment improper, including:

"Where public comment, though it has little or no connection with a public servant’s normal duties, is so harsh or extreme in its criticism of the government or its policies that it indicates that the public servant concerned is incapable of professionally, efficiently or impartially performing his or her official duties."

Public servants have long been asked to exercise judgement when putting forward their personal views, recognising the special status of their chosen profession.

But as others have said, public servants are not second-class citizens - we want public servants who will be "of the community" and no doubt public servants will share in the spectrum of beliefs that are found in the community.

We also want public servants who have a strong sense of their public service responsibility and, in consequence, will subordinate their private interests to their public duty when necessary.

The public duty of APS employees is expressed in the APS values and code of conduct.

This includes the requirement to be "Impartial: The APS is apolitical and provides the government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence."

This value gives Parliament and the public confidence that public servants will serve faithfully the government of the day and deliver government programs to the community professionally, irrespective of their own views and beliefs about them.

The guidelines I have issued to assist public servants to make good decisions in these matters recognise that, generally, public servants may comment publicly without compromising their employment. But there are some limited circumstances where it is not appropriate to do so when acting as a private citizen.

Examples include when this would raise questions about an employee's capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially; where comment is so strong in its criticism of an agency's administration that it could seriously disrupt the workplace; or where the comment is a gratuitous personal attack that might be reasonably perceived to be connected with the employee's employment.

Whether an employee's impartiality could reasonably be questioned - either by a minister, another member of Parliament irrespective of their party allegiance, or a member of the public - would depend on the circumstances.

Relevant factors include the duties of the employee, their seniority, the environment in which they are making comment, and the nature of what they say and how they say it.

A junior staff member providing back office functions, for example, is less likely to have their capacity to perform their duties called into question by commenting on a controversial social issue than a senior policy adviser.

Such considerations apply whether the public comment is made online or in some other forum.

As the editorial acknowledges, the Australian Public Service Commission’s guidelines make clear the nature of online communication means that comments posted online are immediately available to a wide audience.

Material posted online effectively lasts forever, may be replicated endlessly and may be sent to recipients who were never expected to see it or who may view it out of context. These features warrant very careful consideration when commenting online.

Moreover, anonymity cannot be guaranteed. Ill-considered comments made online on the spur of the moment, whether using one’s real name or not, can have far-reaching consequences.

Australian Public Service agencies have a responsibility to interpret these guidelines in the context of their work, and design their own policies and guide employees so they can make good judgements about whether to comment in their personal capacity and, if so, what to say, with confidence.

The Public Service Commission, through the ethics advisory service, can help in this regard.

In this respect, the APS is responding to developments in social media in the same way that any responsible employer does.

This article was originally published in The Canberra Times.
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            [post_content] =>  



The Australian Public Service Commission has released its updated guide to social media use by Federal public servants. The guide, Making public comment on social media: A guide for employees, leaves absolutely no room for employees to make critical comments of any of their ministers, superiors, or departments.

Furthermore, it suggests public servants are liable to be disciplined even if they don’t promptly delete a critical post on their social media account by an outsider.

First brought to light by a critical article in The Australian newspaper, the nine-page, 3,000+ word guide goes into some detail as to what is and what is not acceptable.

Now listen up!

“As members of the Australian community, Australian Public Service (APS) employees have the right to participate in public and political debate,” the document begins.

“But this is not an unlimited right. APS employees have particular responsibilities under the Public Service Act 1999 that come with being employed as a public servant by the Commonwealth of Australia. In some cases, these responsibilities limit their ability to participate fully in public discussions, including on social media.”

Criticism is a definite no-no. Whether it is the employee’s current agency, Minister, previous agency, or observations of a person, the guide is clear to begin with: “Criticising the work, or the administration, of your agency is almost always going to be seen as a breach of the Code. The closer your criticism is to your area of work, the more likely this will be.”

The guide then goes on to warn that critical posts are not allowed after hours or in a declared private capacity, or even anonymously: “Even if you don’t identify yourself you can still be identified by someone else.”

And just in case you’re wondering, your right to freedom of speech is, well, worthless: “The common law recognises an individual right to freedom of expression. This right is subject to limitations such as those imposed by the Public Service Act. In effect, the Code of Conduct operates to limit this right.”

The commissioner responds

The Australian Public Service Commissioner The Hon John Lloyd has responded to the detailed article published by The Australian newspaper, declaring it to be misrepresentative:

“The use of social media by employees requires discretion and judgement,” he writes. “For this reason it is important that all employers, including those in the APS, ensure their employees clearly understand the expectations of their behaviour when they use social media.

“The APSC consulted extensively with APS agencies and employees in late 2016. This consultation indicated that the policy settings did not need to change, but that current obligations were not well understood by employees. The CPSU encouraged its members to participate, and made a submission.

“It is not more restrictive than previous guidance. Rather, it clarifies the parameters around what public servants can and cannot say, and should give greater confidence to APS employees when they are participating online activity. Submissions to the review indicated that aspects of the previous guidance was unclear and ambiguous, and that revised guidance should be simpler and easy to understand.”

Straight from the Trump playbook: The Greens

Greens employment spokesperson Adam Bandt MP slammed reports in The Australian that the Turnbull government will impose restrictions on public servants criticising his government on social media.

"There must have been a few paragraphs missing from the leaked Trump/Turnbull transcript, because this latest crackdown on the public service is straight from the Trump playbook," said Mr Bandt.

"If anyone challenges Trump, they get fired. Malcolm Turnbull, in his desperation to hang onto power, is trying to do the same.

"Holding public servants responsible for what others post on their page is the stuff of the thought police. Your job shouldn't be in danger because someone shares a post on your page about marriage equality or action on climate change and you don't delete it.

"This is a ruthless assault on freedom of speech that would make any demagogue proud.”

The guide, Making public comment on social media: A guide for employees, is available here.
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social-media

social-media