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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Avoiding involvement of agencies in election activities

Political Participation by Tasmanian State Service employees and officers

Agency staff have the same rights as other members of the community to engage in the political process, including political dialogue online, except where these activities impact adversely on their ability to perform their official duties to the standard required under the State Service Act and/or place them in conflict with the general obligations as Tasmanian State Service employees and officers.

The State Service Principles articulated in the State Service Act assert that the ‘State Service is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial, ethical and professional manner’.

The State Service Code of Conduct requires agency staff, when acting in the course of their State Service employment, to:

  • behave in a way that upholds the State Service principles;
  • behave in a way that does not adversely affect the integrity and good reputation of the State Service;
  • maintain confidentiality about dealings and information acquired in the course of employment;
  • disclose and take reasonable steps to avoid conflicts of interests in connection with State Service employment; and
  • use Tasmanian Government resources in a proper manner.

At no time should Tasmanian State Service employees and officers (other than those formally seconded to Ministerial, parliamentary or electorate offices) engage in activities of a political nature while on duty. Extra care is required during the caretaker period to ensure impartiality. The specific requirements relating to Departmental Liaison Officers are provided in the following section.

Departmental Liaison Officers

Where Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) have been provided by agencies to assist Ministerial Offices with necessary liaison work with agencies, the need for that work should be reviewed at the commencement of the caretaker period.

If there is ongoing work of a liaison nature during the caretaker period, DLOs may remain with Ministerial Offices. However, DLOs are Tasmanian State Service employees and, in accordance with the State Service Principles outlined in the State Service Act, are apolitical. Therefore, DLOs are to avoid assisting, or participating in, Ministers’ political activities.

Operational Notes

Tasmanian State Service employees and officers need to exercise judgement if they are scheduled to speak at public functions during the caretaker period. In the case of controversial issues, Tasmanian State Service employees and officers should decline invitations to speak in the first instance. However if they do accept, they should explain to the organiser that the Government is in caretaker mode and that their presentation will be limited to factual issues and matters of administration. Tasmanian State Service employees and officers should avoid publicly explaining or promoting policies during the caretaker period.

Where a Head of Agency is concerned that there may be, or may appear to be, a conflict between an employee’s duties and his or her involvement in political activities, the issue should be discussed with the employee. Individual circumstances including the classification of the employee; his or her capacity to influence government decision-making; the extent to which he or she deals directly with Ministers and other Members of Parliament; and the extent to which they represent the Government in public will be relevant considerations in the settling of an appropriate course of action.

Other matters for discussion could include the:

  • extent to which the intended behaviour impairs the employee’s ability to exercise impartial decision making or maintain public confidence in the integrity, impartiality and neutrality of the Tasmanian State Service;
  • extent to which the intended behaviour might involve the use of information obtained through official duties or amount to unauthorised public comment; and
  • use of any official facilities, including the Tasmanian State Service employees and officers time during work hours.

Contesting Elections

Employees and officers wishing to contest the State election should review ‘Practices, Procedures and Standards No. 3 – Contesting Federal, State and Local Government Elections’ issued by the State Service Management Office in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

See also Section 11 – Consultation between non-Government Parties and agency staff.

Communications

Agencies should carefully monitor their communications activity during the caretaker period to ensure that the material:

  • is of public interest;
  • relates only to the day-to-day business of the agency; and
  • cannot reasonably be construed as being for political purposes.

Some communications during the caretaker period are regulated by legislation including:

  • the Tasmanian Electoral Act 2004 (Division 5 of Part 6), which deals with advertising and other campaign material;
  • the Tasmanian Charter of Budget Responsibility Act 2007 (see 8.1 to 8.4);
  • the Commonwealth Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Section 42 and Schedule 2), which deals with radio and television broadcasts; and

The Broadcasting Services Actdefines ‘political matter’. Very broadly, to be deemed political matter, the matter must, when viewed objectively, be able to be characterised as participation in the political process or as an attempt to influence or comment upon that process.[8] An advertisement dealing with an issue that falls within this broad definition of political matter must comply with the provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act.

Operational Notes

Prior to the likely start of the caretaker period, agencies should review all communications material that is likely to be running during the caretaker period, to assess the appropriateness of content of current material and introduce guidelines for future material. Communications material to review includes:

  • advertising campaigns, including radio, print, television and online;
  • online platforms, including websites, intranets and third-party platforms such as social media; and
  • other publications.

Campaigns can continue if they are:

  • operational in nature, such as public health or road safety campaigns; and
  • appropriately authorised in accordance with legislation (see 7.10).

Material that is considered operational should not include photographs of and/or political statements by a Minister. Passive distribution of material, such as continued placement in the agency’s offices or distribution in response to requests is acceptable.

Advertising and Information Campaigns

During the caretaker period Tasmanian Government campaigns should not:

  • promote the policies or achievements of the Government;
  • highlight the role of particular Ministers; or
  • relate to issues that are a matter of contention between the Government and non-Government parties.

Some communications during the caretaker period are regulated by legislation. In broad terms, legislation (see 7.10) requires any advertisement or literature actively distributed during an election campaign to identify the person who authorised the materials and the name and address of the printers.

Operational Notes

Tasmanian Government television and radio advertisements are always required to conclude with an authorisation tag that says “Authorised by the Tasmanian Government, Hobart.” During the caretaker period, authorisations must also acknowledge the speaker: “Spoken by... [name speakers individually]”. Agencies should consider applying similar authorisations to press advertising and new printed material to be published and distributed during the caretaker period.

Acknowledgement of Government support or sponsorship

During the caretaker period, Tasmanian Government support or sponsorship may be provided to events or programs that are operational in nature.

The Tasmanian Government should not provide support to programs or events that:

  • promote the policies or achievements of the Government;
  • highlight the role of particular Ministers; or
  • relate to issues that are a matter of contention between the Government and non-Government parties.

Operational Notes

The application of the caretaker conventions to communication materials that are produced by third parties but supported, sponsored or endorsed by Tasmanian State Service agencies should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Agencies should take into account the terms and conditions of State Service agency support and whether the agency has any control or influence over the content and functions of the communications. If necessary, an agency could request that the Government logo or other indication of support be removed for the duration of the caretaker period.

Online and Electronic Communications

Online platforms, social media platforms or other electronic communications either hosted or managed by agencies, should remain apolitical during a caretaker period.

Operational Notes – agency-managed websites

Prior to the likely start of the caretaker period, agencies should review all agency-managed websites, online platforms and social media platforms to identify any material that requires removal upon the commencement of the caretaker period.

Agencies should check the wording of any icons and links on their online platforms to ensure that they cannot be interpreted as promoting a Government policy or achievement. It is also recommended that profiles of Ministers be removed.

If agency platforms contain links to sites outside the tas.gov.au domain with political content, agencies should consider the need for entry/exit messages, such as, “You are now leaving the website of [X]. The website you are entering is not maintained or funded by the Government of Tasmania.”

On agency-managed social media platforms, any “likes” or “follows” that link to political candidates, members or sites, should be removed.

In most cases, agency-managed online platforms may retain material placed on them before the commencement of the caretaker period.

Agencies should only add the following material to their platforms during the caretaker period:

  • portfolio-related announcements, if that is the usual practice. This will require judgement within each agency, but, as an example, a ministerial press release relating to a public health warning might appropriately be added;
  • agency-related announcements of a routine, apolitical nature if that is the usual practice (e.g. bushfire safety message);
  • purely factual material; and
  • information on existing policies and programs, unless the information includes attacks on non-government parties or members or other political material.

Agencies should not add to the platform any material that contains, or links to, political material, such as:

  • ministerial announcements relating to election promises;
  • any political information, including information that contains attacks on non-government parties or members, or other political material; and
  • information that contains links to political material or pages.

Operational Notes – Ministerial platforms

In the case of Ministerial platforms that are maintained by agencies, agencies may continue to maintain or fund the maintenance of the website during the caretaker period if that was the practice prior to the caretaker period.

Material placed on the Minister’s platform before the caretaker period may be retained, as may links between the Minister’s and agency’s websites.

Agency staff should only add to Ministerial platforms material relating to matters of existing policy or purely factual material. They should not add material that could be construed as being political, including material concerning future policies, election commitments or issues, how-to-vote material or media releases and speeches that criticise non-government parties or members, or promote the Government.

If an agency-maintained/funded ministerial website contains links to sites outside the tas.gov.au domain, such as political party websites or social media accounts or personal Ministerial platforms, the links should be removed or an appropriate entry/exit message included. Such messages could be along the lines of “You are now leaving the website of [X]. The website you are entering is not maintained or funded by the Government of Tasmania.”

Operational Notes – online moderation

Where the functionality of online platforms or social media pages allows comment, debate or promotion of opinions, agencies should consider the following measures, using judgement to decide what is appropriate for a particular page:

  • allowing comments with a moderating statement that advises that the Government is in a caretaker role and that any political comments or material will be deleted;
  • disabling comments and not posting new material during the caretaker period; or
  • limiting comment functionality, pre-moderating comments before publishing or closer monitoring of public contributions.

If functions are disabled or minimised, a statement should be included that advises of the Government’s caretaker role, and of the measures taken on the platform to limit political activity. For example:

“The Tasmanian Government has assumed a caretaker role in the lead up to election for the Tasmanian House of Assembly. It is important during this time that Tasmanian Government resources are not used to communicate political material. As such, this website/function is unavailable/will be moderated from the beginning of the Caretaker Period until after the election to ensure political material is not placed on the site.”

Media Statements

Media statements issued by agencies during a caretaker period should only relate to the day-to-day business of the agency or legislative requirements, and must only contain factual information.

Media statements and responses to media queries issued by agencies during a caretaker period do not require formal approval by Ministerial Offices, however should be provided to the Government Media Office for information.

Use of Agency Resources and Premises

Agency employees and others must not use agency resources or their positions to support particular issues or parties during the election campaign.

Use of government email, faxes or other electronic systems to publish or distribute political material may be a breach of the State Service Code of Conduct.

Material from political parties and how-to-vote material, whether produced by a political party or any other organisation, must not be displayed within the precincts of government buildings, or on other Crown property or vehicles. This includes Electorate Offices, where displaying posters and other political campaign material promoting the incumbent candidate is not permitted.

Government premises that are normally open to the public may be used as the backdrop for political advertising or policy material by government and non-government parties (e.g. photography or filming) provided that no official resources are used, operations of the site are not unreasonably impacted and employees/officers are not involved.

In the case of official functions involving the use of agency resources, it would generally be appropriate for any relevant non-Government party spokespersons to be given the opportunity to be present.

Ministerial visits to agencies for meetings or other consultation would be consistent with the conduct of routine government business, in accordance with the caretaker conventions.

Operational Notes

The approval for the use of any particular premises by political parties for public events rests with the relevant Head of Agency. If unsure about a request, staff should discuss with the appropriate Head of Agency.

While responsible use of agency premises that are normally open to the public is acceptable by all parties campaigning in an election, it is most important during an election campaign that:

  • State Service employees and others not become involved in party political activity during a visit to Government facilities;
  • the impartiality of agency employees is not compromised through their appearance in party political material e.g. photos, vision. The wearing of uniforms or other identifying material should not occur;
  • State Service employees and others are not engaged in political dialogue;
  • State Service employees and others are not used for logistical support for political functions.