Centrelink vows to fight to get rid of reinstated public servant who called clients 'spastics'
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Centrelink vows to fight to get rid of reinstated public servant who called clients 'spastics'

The federal government says it will continue its battle to sack a public servant who exposed the official peddling of dodgy figures on Centrelink waiting times.

The Department of Human Services, which runs the welfare agency, says it remains concerned that its sacked employee, Daniel Starr, took to social media to condemn Centrelink clients as "spastics" and "junkies".

A public servant has been reinstated after being sacked for comments he made on social media.

A public servant has been reinstated after being sacked for comments he made on social media.Credit:Louise Kennerley

But the Fair Work Commission, which ordered the bureaucrat's reinstatement this month, heard evidence that Centrelink bosses only launched their extraordinary hunt for their online critic after he called out an official departmental social media account for providing false information on Centrelink waiting times.

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The commission's decision dealt a serious blow to the Australian Public Service's crackdown on its employees' social media use.

Critical infrastructure includes telecommunications, power, water, ports, transport, health and government services.

Critical infrastructure includes telecommunications, power, water, ports, transport, health and government services.Credit:Phil Carrick

But the department says it has lodged an appeal to the commission's full bench, seeking to overturn the ruling that Mr Starr was unfairly sacked and should be given his job back.

Send your tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au.

The department did not answer specific questions about the case but said in a statement that it took Mr Starr's online condemnation of Centrelink clients as "spastics" and "junkies" seriously.

"The department takes it very seriously when a staff member uses derogatory and offensive language such as 'spastics' and 'junkies' to describe customers and will take disciplinary action in line with our policies," the department said.

"The Australian Public Service code of conduct requires employees to behave at all times in a way that upholds the APS values and the integrity of the APS.

"The department's staff social media policy makes it clear employees may face sanctions if online interactions are found to have breached the APS code of conduct.

"The policy requires staff to maintain a level of professionalism consistent with their obligations as a public servant."

The "spastics and junkies" comments were made in mid-2013, almost two years before departmental bosses launched a hunt for the internal critic after he exposed misinformation that was distributed through the department's official channels.

In April 2015, Mr Starr, posting on a forum as user "mmmdl", argued with an official departmental account, Flick@HumanServices, about waiting times for youth allowance claims.

Mmmdl accused the department of "ridiculous assertions" and urged other users to contact their MPs about the "utterly disgraceful" situation.

The hunt for Mr Starr then began, ordered by senior bureaucrats Mark Withnell and Melissa Ryan, Fair Work Commission vice-president Adam Hatcher noted in his decision.

"I would infer that this [investigation] involved a wholesale trawl through all of 'mmmdl's' online posts, since it was discovered from those posts that 'mmmdl' claimed that he was approximately 39 years old in January 2015, had been employed at Centrelink for 20 years, lived opposite the Telstra exchange in Corrimal, and would be travelling overseas during late May to early June 2015," Mr Hatcher wrote.

"These claims were matched with the department's internal data sources, and permitted 'mmmdl' to be identified with a high degree of confidence as Mr Starr."

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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