Ok so here’s the thing, if you’re one of many many public servants in Australia, your online opinions might just want to take the backseat for a while. That’s because in a very monumental decision today, the High Court basically ruled that if you work for the Government – you can’t have an opinion about politics.
And with public servants making up nearly 20% of all workers in this continent (yep, that’s one in five people on average), that’s a huuuuge amount of people who are now silent.
It all relates to a case concerning Michaela Banjeri – a former public servant – who was fired for some tweets she posted back in 2012. To keep the nutshell theme going, she posted under a fake-name Twitter account around the Government’s at-the-time immigration policy. The Government basically wanted Banjeri gone after finding out she was behind the tweets, and the case has fluctuated between various appeal and tribunal bodies, finally making it’s way to the High Court.
Legal Advisor Kieran Pender gives a fab, detailed recap below.
Thread: Tomorrow, the @HighCourtofAus will deliver judgment in Comcare v Banerji (@LaLegale). It is one of the most important free speech (implied freedom of political communication) cases to be determined in recent years. Here’s a short recap.
— Kieran Pender (@KieranPender) August 6, 2019
What is particularly worrying about the whole debacle is that, even anonymously, public servants are not allowed to have an opinion.
A lot of discussion in the aftermath of this decision will no doubt be about free speech, and in this case you could argue that the verdict was just following very strict laws. Unfortunately for Banerji, there are specific laws relating to ‘impartiality’ when it comes to public servants – or essentially, the fact that you should never lean one way or another when working under the government.
#breaking Michaela Banerji has unanimously lost the High Court case against Comcare on freedom of political communication. Decision upholds decision to sack her and APS code of conduct restricting even private anonymous social media posts. #auspol #auslaw
— Paul Karp (@Paul_Karp) August 7, 2019
But what it does do is set a scary precedent when it comes to just what you can and can’t say online, in an increasingly harsh online world.