National

Departing ATO public servants threatened with two years' jail over classified information

Thousands of public servants leaving the Australian Taxation Office have been warned that loose talk about their time at the agency might cost them two years behind bars.

But taxation bosses also want officials to use their redundancies as a chance to spill the beans on any crime or misconduct they might have witnessed in their years at the ATO.

The thousands of public servants are also being reminded, tactfully, that they should not take anything that does not belong to them when they leave.

A taxation spokesman said on Thursday that departing bureaucrats were being "reminded" of their legal obligations for their own good but would not say how many dob-in notifications had been made by workers on their way out the door.

 Among the information pack provided to taxation officials leaving amid the agency's massive downsizing program is an attachment outlining their "obligations on cessation of employment", warning of the punishments for public servants who reveal classified information.

"The obligation to observe secrecy applies not only during your service with the Australian Taxation Office but also after you cease employment," the warning states.

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 "Your attention is again drawn to the statutory provision and penalty which may be incurred in relation to any breach of security.

The document goes on to offer a polite warning against stealing government property.

"You are also reminded that you are obliged to return to your manager, any agency authority  and other documents or any other property of the Commonwealth which you may have," it says.

An ATO spokesman said the warning against unauthorised disclosure was compulsory for staff with  security clearances and that the agency's management had decided to extend it to all departing employees.

"For staff with a security clearance, the Attorney General's Personnel Security Policy Framework requires that agencies demonstrate a separation process that ensures staff leaving an organisation understand their ongoing secrecy obligations," the spokesman said.

"While this is specific to staff with a security clearance, we apply this process to all staff leaving the ATO to reinforce the importance of a robust APS security culture. 

"On cessation of employment, all staff are reminded to be conscious of any ongoing obligations as an APS employee, such as the observation of secrecy provisions. 

"This is designed to support staff to avoid any unintentional or avoidable disclosures." 

But the spokesman was coy about how many notifications of crime or misconduct had been made be departing officials.

"Exiting staff are also provided with contact details if they wish to report any matters relating to internal fraud and or serious misconduct within the ATO, that they may have observed while they were employed," he said.