Democracy, we are told, is government of the people, by the people, for the people. Yet in the last few months it seems we are to be controlled, not governed in the true sense of a democratic society. Dear Current Government: you work for the people. Just a reminder.
The first warning bells sounded with the appointment of Tim Wilson to the Human Rights Commission. I waxed lyrical on that over three articles, which you may entertain as background material if you wish. As expected, the next chimes were the proposed repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. I’ve expressed my views on that particular proposal in at least two articles. More background reading if you so desire.
Today I was shocked to see this tweet. Read the fine print very carefully, especially if you work for the Australian Public Service (APS).
Remember the case of Michaela Banerji? Michaela has an on-going battle over her anonymous use of social media. It seems the aim is that no Australian Public Servant is going to be allowed free speech. Yes, I do understand the contractual obligations of an employment contract. I do understand if you strongly disagree with your employer you may be best to seek alternative employment. On the other hand, public servants also have a right to have a voice in this, their country. The APS is a large employer.
At June 2013 there were 167,257 staff employed in the Australian Public Service under the PS Act. This represented a decrease of 907 or 0.5% from the June 2012 number of 168,164. Figure 1 shows ongoing and non-ongoing employee numbers from June 1999 to June 2013. Source: ABS.
The working population of Australia is 11.5 million (rounded up). I suppose restricting the political involvement of 1.45% of the working population is not statistically significant, but it is not what I believe Australia is about.
Once the precedent is set, will this spread to state employees and perhaps even local government employees?
In June 2013 there were 1,891,300 public sector employees. There were 248,500 employees in Commonwealth government, 1,450,200 in state government and 192,500 in local government. Source: ABS.
Well, that is odd. Is it 167,257 or 248,500 employed in Commonwealth government? Government publications often confuse me with the numbers, although perhaps the PS Act has something to do with it.
Now we are talking about 16.4% of the working population. This is rather more significant than 1.45%.
16.4% is quite a drop. Back in 1997 it was 22% and in 1987 a whopping 30% of employees worked in the public sector.
In August 1997, 22% of all employees in Australia worked in the public sector. This was a decline from 30% in August 1987. Source: ABS
What other restrictions will be placed on employees of the public sector? I already know many live in fear and won’t speak out, even about living in fear of speaking out. Is this a healthy environment to work in?
That wasn’t the end of the day, however, as this image did the social media rounds as well.
Interesting. I can only see one post on Vanessa’s Facebook page, although perhaps she has another. I have asked her to send me details, but it may not be appropriate for her to do so given the above “advice”. I am also not a Facebook friend of Vanessa’s so I may have limited visibility of content.
Is this the result of the government spending $4.3 million trawling social media to see what we think of the policies?
As far as I can ascertain, Vanessa is not a public sector employee. So what were we saying about the NEED for free speech again? Perhaps I’m a little confused. Does Tim Wilson have a view on this, I wonder?
Speaking of free speech, there is the question of defamation legislation. Surely if we are to be free to use the N word without constraint because that would restrict free speech, then defamation legislation has to go too? Perhaps the answer is, or was, on Vanessa’s Facebook page.
When I look at all these individual situations as a collective, I have to ask myself, again, is “1984” closer than we think?
Edited to add links to the following must read articles:
- Michael Burge has written a great article on No Fibs about the events, You cannot burn a mummy blog.
- SBS report on the action (detailed above) by the Immigration Department, including the department’s statement in response, Remove ‘offensive remark’ or else.
- Jenna Price has a terrific piece in The Age, Free speech, but only for Abbott elite.
This is the story that just keeps on giving. Further articles on various aspects of the above are:
- Silencing the bird, a brilliant followup by Michael Burge.
- A warped sense of free speech by Paula Matthewson on The Hoopla suggests journalists can expect more brown envelopes to mysteriously appear on their desks.
- Josh Taylor spoke up on ZDNet.com with Border Protection forces Facebook content removal through Twitter. Josh obviously likes long headlines.