Turning public servants into silent slaves

The Labor-Green coalition government in the ACT wants to control how its employees behave outside work hours.

Under legislation it has prepared, public servants who say or do things in a private capacity that the government doesn’t like will be disciplined or sacked. It will also punish those who fail to dob in others who, “outside of the performance of official functions”, “engage in conduct that causes damage to the reputation” of the service or the government.

Along with “security” laws that have increased police powers to arrest, detain and silence people, this elimination of public servants’ right to free speech is another attack on the limited democracy we have.

There are clearly times when the public service and governments deserve criticism that damages their reputations. For example, when they are killing or damaging people. Under similar federal legislation, a Department of Immigration worker, Michaela Banerji, was dismissed in 2013 for anonymous criticisms on Twitter of the government’s harsh treatment of refugees.

The ACT proposal is even more draconian than the restrictions on Australian government employees’ freedom of speech. And the territory government’s own human rights commissioner has condemned it as incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

Appallingly, the Community and Public Sector Union’s regional secretary has backed the bill. The main strategy of the union’s leadership for years has been to help Labor in elections, rather than to lead members in serious fights over wages and conditions against governments of any colour.