Many public servants find their workplace's social-media policies – which warn them against expressing political views – confusing and intimidating. Some even regard them as an appalling intrusion on their democratic rights. Their hopes rest with the seven High Court judges now presiding over Comcare v Banerji, a case that will determine the limits of the constitution's implied freedom of political communication.
The Informant has been covering Michaela Banerji's trials since I first reported on her sacking in 2013. Banerji, then an Immigration Department employee, had been using an anonymous Twitter account to criticise the government's policies on refugees. She's still at it, on the very same account: @LaLegale. Feel free to follow her.
As she awaits the court's decision, I'd like to celebrate Banerji's freedom of speech. Here are some of the views she tweeted freely after last month's horrific attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.
"Wasn't there bombing of Gaza on the day of the NZ mosque false flag incident? To distract from Gaza?"
Had you considered that, readers? That the attack was a deliberate distraction to help the Israeli military? These were Banerji's thoughts just a day after 50 Muslims were slaughtered.
She went on: "Why was [Hilary Clinton's former campaign manager John] Podesta in NZ [a] few days before? Israel needs Pine Gap. Australia is implicated in Israeli/USA wars for that reason. What is Five Eyes and [its] purpose?"
And, just in case it wasn't clear: "While Gaza was being attacked, the false flag in NZ sucked up all the social and [mainstream-media] oxygen, distracting everyone from Gaza."
Two weeks later, as Pauline Hanson fell further into public disgrace by "questioning" whether Martin Bryant was guilty of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, Banerji offered more:
"If you read about the Port Arthur event, you, too, may have 'questions'. I know that I do. Martin Bryant has taken the fall and will be in prison for the rest of his life. Do you approve? ...
"To hold the view that the event was a false flag is not to deny the deaths and injuries. It is only to question the perpetrators and their objectives, and to see elements of the dominant narrative which simply do not make sense."
And now to celebrate my freedom of speech. I want the court to find in Banerji's favour. There is a moral panic within the bureaucracy about public comment that doesn't stand up to reason. I suspect it's linked to the habitual secrecy that surrounds policymaking, which would benefit greatly if it were a more open process.
What a shame, however, that a person with such vile views has come to represent all public servants. The APS workforce deserves a far better champion than Banerji.
Saying the 'c' word
This month's Informant has plenty of coverage of the APS review's interim findings (start here). So I'll limit my comment to one word: "climate".
The review team titled its document Priorities for change. It focuses on the public service's needs in a changing world. The review even commissioned research to identify future scenarios. Yet, somehow, the report doesn't once even mention the word.
How is it possible to avoid discussing what many say is the world's (and Australia's) greatest threat, which will radically change many aspects of social and economic organisation? Even more so when the review team includes Gordon de Brouwer, a former federal departmental secretary who once led Australia's response to climate change.
I asked the review panel, which responded in a joint statement (which you can read below).
Still, this isn't the first time I've noticed "climate change" missing from allegedly serious, macro-perspectives of the economy and society. I can't help but wonder whether consultants, public servants and others who work with government feel the "c" word is now too dangerous, politically, to mention. If so, these equivocators should get out of the way of real thinkers.
(The response: "The panel has been asked to examine the capability, culture and operating model of the APS, to ensure it best serves Australia across all its policy, regulatory and delivery functions in the decades ahead. It is not a review of specific policy challenges per se, and examples used in the Priorities for Change report are illustrative, rather than exhaustive.
"The panel acknowledges that climate change is a significant public policy challenge, and will require an integrated and collaborative approach from the APS. The published work that informs the scenarios discussed in Priorities for Change (Scenarios for 2030) references climate change, as do many of the submissions and comments received and considered by the panel.")
Some of the latest climbs towards the top of the government tree:
- As reported widely last month, Environment Minister Melissa Price appointed one of her former advisers, Josh Thomas, as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's chief executive. Some Labor scuttlebutt suggests Thomas could find himself on a post-election hit list of Coalition-aligned people appointed to senior government roles, though that's unlikely – he has good credentials. I hope he proves himself to be a genuine champion of the reef's preservation.
- The new Commonwealth solicitor for public prosecutions is Melbourne-based Andrea Pavleka, who was previously a deputy director at the Commonwealth DPP. Pavleka has kept busy since her promotion, fronting up to a recent Senate estimates hearing to explain the federal police raids on the Australian Workers Union in 2017.
- Ross Carter will be Australia's first independent inspector-general of live animal exports, a statutory role recommended in the Moss review of the Agriculture Department. Carter is now in the role in an interim capacity as he awaits the passage through Parliament of his office's enacting legislation.
- The retiring Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, has reached across the political divide to appoint Marion Scrymgour as head of the Northern Land Council. Scrymgour was a long-time Labor MLA in the Northern Territory Parliament who became deputy chief minister just over a decade ago, making her Australia's highest-ranked Indigenous woman in government.
- Finally, there are also changes among the top brass at Russell. Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, who is chief of joint operations, will become Australia's next chief of air force in July. His present role will be filled by the army's Major-General Greg Bilton, who will also be promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general.