Free speech for the Public Service? Friends only, foes face prosecution – Michael West

High Court of Australia

Last year public servant Josh Krook wrote a blog post in which he argued that Covid-19 benefitted big tech because forced social isolation would drive people to online platforms. He worked for the Commonwealth Industry Department that deals extensively with tech companies; he was fired because he refused to delete the post. This follows the firing of Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji, who was dismissed over a series of Tweets, among other things, that were critical of Australia’s treatment of refugees. Banerji made 9,000 posts, mostly sent from her personal device outside of work hours. The High Court ruled Banerji’s dismissal was warranted because she had breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct which stipulates that public servants must act impartially and are prohibited from engaging in any forms of “harassment”. The 2019 High Court ruling (Comcare v Banerji) effectively said public servants could be sacked for comments they make on social media. And then we come to Geoff Philip Wade, a public servant employed by the Department of Parliamentary Services. Wade, who works as a researcher in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, is one of Australia’s most prolific anti-China Twitter users. Wade has made 42,000 posts, nearly five times that of Banerji, a great number of which appear to have been sent from inside Parliament House. Often during his “working day” he will send out Tweets every five or 10 minutes. He has published photos, phone numbers and personal email addresses of people whose only crime is being Chinese or advancing views contrary to his own. The Department of Parliamentary Services refused to answer questions about Wade’s use of social media during taxpayer-funded work hours. A spokesperson cited “privacy considerations”.

Free speech for the Public Service? Friends only, foes face prosecution – Michael West