Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick says the Gazette no longer works in the same way with the digital age. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
The federal public service looks set to abandon more than a century of tradition and end the publication of employment movements in the venerable APS Gazette.
Since 1902 the Gazette has noted the hirings, firings, movements and promotions in government departments and has been essential reading since federation, for public servants wanting to keep tabs on their friends and enemies in the service.
But after 11 decades driving Canberra's rumour-mill, the future of the gazette's employment pages is in doubt with a Parliamentary committee worried about the privacy of public servants leaving their jobs on medical grounds.
There is also concern over sacked bureaucrats enduring the added punishment of being named and shamed in the online publication.
Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick says the easy access of the digital age means the Gazette no longer works in the way envisaged by the bureaucracy's founding fathers.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights fears the Gazette might be violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which Australia is a signatory – as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Mr Sedgwick is worried too, in his discussion paper on the thorny problem he notes that expectations of privacy have changed a lot since 1902.
"Most employees would regard publication of information that would indicate that they are incapable of fulfilling their duties because of a physical or mental incapacity an unacceptable intrusion into their privacy," the Commissioner wrote.
Mores around privacy are not the only things to have changed in 102 years, the commission believes, with more than 5 million people visiting the APS jobs internet pages last year.
"When the requirement to publish termination decisions was introduced in 1902, personal information became protected by its 'practical obscurity' once archived, meaning that thereafter it could only be tracked down in a library or archive by a motivated researcher," Mr Sedgwick wrote.
"Today, termination information published online in the Gazette is available years after the fact, and is discoverable via a search engine.
"This raises a new set of privacy challenges that may call for a different procedure."
On the other hand, there is the need for the Australian government not to be seen to be making decisions behind closed doors, a powerful argument.
"Public notification of APS employment decisions reinforces the openness, transparency and accountability of the APS," Mr Sedgwick wrote.
"One of the APS Values is 'Accountable' which includes being open to scrutiny and transparent in decision-making."
The commissioner also cited the need for the public to see that justice was done in the rare cases where senior bureaucrats were fired for misconduct or maladministration.
In 2012-13 there were 3137 employees whose employment was terminated and published in the gazette, with the vast majority going voluntarily and with redundancy payouts.
But 277 of those public servants left and were gazetted because of physical or mental incapacity and 181 were terminated on "other grounds",
Thirty-eight were sacked for breaches of the Public Service Code of Conduct.