Staff within Parliament House have been asked to stay silent when approached by media or face the consequences, in a move the main public sector union has called "heavy-handed" following the release of a Four Corners report on the sexual assault allegations made by Brittany Higgins.
The Department of Parliamentary Services released its new media contact policy in March, five days before a Four Corners program was aired, featuring a security employee that described her actions on the night in question.
The department said it had first begun working on the new rules in late 2020 and "unequivocally" denied they had any link to the Four Corners program's airing.
The new policy restricts staff outside of the department's media team from speaking to members of the media without prior permission from the secretary, adding unauthorised disclosures could harm the department's "integrity and reputation".
"Employees should exercise caution when talking with members of the Press Gallery within Parliament House and be aware that journalists may, from time to time, seek 'informal' views to help them pursue a story," the policy document reads.
"If contacted by an unknown person who is seeking information about DPS or the Parliament, employees should exercise extreme caution and refer the inquiry to the media relations team."
It warns staff could be found in breach of the code of conduct as well as the Criminal Code Act, which carries a prison term of up to two years.
The Community and Public Sector Union said the silencing of department staff was just adding to the low morale among Parliament House staff and "toxic" culture within the workplace.
Deputy national secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said the department should focus on improving workplace culture rather than focusing on silencing employees from speaking out.
"The Department of Parliamentary Services has long used code of conducts heavy-handedly to force DPS workers to stay silent on issues," Ms Vincent-Pietsch said.
"The tightening of the department's media and communications policy will only lead to an increased likelihood of code of conducts being used.
"DPS need to take stock of the evidence given to Inquiry into the Operation and Management of DPS and reflect on the toxic environment it has created.
"Our members in DPS play critical roles in our democracy and the community expects that our national parliament be a model employer, unfortunately, that is far from the truth."
A department spokesperson said the policy's drafting commenced in late 2020 and was given to staff and unions for feedback in February this year.
"DPS commenced development of a media contact policy in late 2020 as previously there was no specific policy directly covering staff contact or engagement with media," a spokesperson said.
It added there had been no breaches or investigations since the policy came into effect on March 17.
The union has previously taken aim at the parliamentary department after it conducted a survey of union members within the workplace late last year.
The survey found more than half - 54 per cent - of the more than 50 staff surveyed felt there bullying and inappropriate behaviour had been on the rise.
The respondents also held concerns of the increasing workload amid budget cuts.
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