The Government has warned federal bureaucrats against criticising politicians on Facebook and Twitter, saying ''unreasonable'' comments could result in disciplinary action.
The Public Service Commission advised government staff late last week how to communicate in public forums, such as at conferences or when writing on websites in a private capacity.
The commission's head of ethics, Karin Fisher, said bureaucrats had the same right to freedom of expression as other citizens.
But that right was ''subject to legitimate public interests, such as the maintenance of an impartial and effective public service in which the community can have confidence''.
The Public Service Act says bureaucrats ''must at all times behave in a way that upholds ... the integrity and the good reputation of Australia''.
Ms Fisher said this applied to comments made outside office hours and on issues unrelated to a public servant's work.
A comment was inappropriate if it was ''so harsh or extreme'' in its criticism of the Government, a parliamentarian or any political party's policy that it raised questions about the employee's capacity to be impartial, or if it was ''a gratuitous personal attack that might reasonably be perceived to be connected with their employment''. The commission issued the guidelines in the wake of growing confusion among public servants about how they should use social media.
Some staff have already dubbed the changes the ''Jericho amendments'', after a newspaper outed then public servant Greg Jericho in 2010 as the author of anonymous political blog Grog's Gamut.
Ms Fisher said public servants should assume that, regardless of where they made comments, ''their identity and the nature of their employment will be revealed''.
However, she said yesterday the latest advice was not prescriptive, adding ''the exercise of judgment and a firm eye on the nature of public service lie at the heart of this guidance''.
The advice also says bureaucrats who comment in a professional but unofficial capacity, such as experts who speak at conferences or write articles for academic journals, should tell their managers beforehand what they propose to say if it ''might reasonably reflect on their APS employment''.
Public servants who breach the code of conduct can be sacked, demoted, fined or reprimanded, or have their pay cut.
This reporter is on Twitter: @markusmannheim