Chapter 8: Upholding the Reputation of the Department and Australia

This chapter sets out guidance on upholding the reputation of DFAT and Australia, providing references to groups and individuals outside the Government, using diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities, making public comments in a private capacity and using internet social networking tools.

Staff should contact the Conduct and Ethics Unit (conduct@dfat.gov.au) if they require clarification on the contents of this Manual or if they are uncertain about the ethical implications of a proposed course of action.

8.1 Responsibility to Uphold the Reputation of the Department and Australia

8.1.1 APS employees and contractors have a responsibility to uphold the reputation of the department at all times. This means ensuring that their conduct and behaviour is consistent with the APS Values and Employment Principles. APS employees and contractors also have a responsibility to uphold the reputation of Australia overseas at all times. The APS Code of Conduct and the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service require staff on duty overseas at all times to behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia.

8.1.2 LES employees have a responsibility to uphold the reputation of Australia and their post at all times. The standard LES Code of Conduct states that LES employees' personal behaviour, including their behaviour outside office hours, must not compromise the good reputation of Australia or the post.

8.1.3 The department and its work have a high profile in Australia and overseas. Therefore, some legitimate public actions involve risks to the reputation of Australia, and to the department's reputation for impartiality and professionalism. These actions include: providing references in a private or official capacity on behalf of groups or individuals outside the Government; using diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities; and making public comments in a private capacity (including on the internet). It is important that APS employees, LES employees and contractors exercise judgment and caution to manage these risks.

Household Members of APS Employees

8.1.4 Unless they are staff members of the department themselves, household members of APS employees serving overseas are not directly subject to any departmental directions in relation to conduct and ethics. They are not covered directly by the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service. However, the high visibility of household members as part of an Australian official community means that any inappropriate behaviour or violation of the host country's laws by a household member can damage the reputation of the department, the post and Australia (clause 6.2 DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service).

8.1.5 In accordance with the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service, APS employees serving overseas must take all reasonable steps to ensure that members of their households do not engage in behaviour likely to damage the reputation of the post and Australia. Instances of misconduct by household members could result in the termination of an APS employee's posting.

8.1.6 Article 37 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) provides members of the family of a diplomatic agent with privileges and immunities. Because of this provision, family members must respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State in accordance with Article 41 of the VCDR. Articles 53 and 55 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) are relevant in this regard to members of consular posts.

8.2 Providing References

What do I need to do?

All Staff

8.2.1 Staff of the department - particularly senior APS employees such as HOMs/HOPs - are often asked to provide references for groups or individuals outside the Australian Government. Staff may be asked to provide references in either their official or private capacities, and for various purposes - including for job or grant applications or for furthering commercial opportunities.

8.2.2 The department recognises that in general terms, it is legitimate for staff to provide references for groups and individuals outside the Government. At the same time, staff need to exercise judgment and caution before providing any such references. This is particularly so for HOMs/HOPs as the most senior representatives of the Government in their host countries.

8.2.3 If later placed on the public record, a reference for a group or individual whose actions or intentions are contrary to Australia's or the department's values or interests may undermine the reputation of the department and the staff member who provided the reference. A reference which intervenes inappropriately in a decision of the Government may undermine the department's reputation for impartiality and professionalism within the Government.

8.2.4 When providing a reference for a group or individual outside the Government, APS employees, LES employees and contractors must assure themselves that the group or individual seeking the reference is of good repute and is seeking the reference in good faith. Staff should not provide a reference unless they know the purpose of the reference and that purpose is consistent with the department's values and interests.

8.2.5 Where a reference is being given in a private capacity, staff should make it clear in the reference that they are expressing private views. To ensure a clear distinction between a reference conveying private views and a reference which may be construed as an official departmental view, staff should not provide references in a private capacity on official departmental letterhead or from departmental e-mail addresses.

8.2.6 Staff should not provide references in an official capacity unless the references are in direct pursuit of government policy and are appropriately cleared (usually by an SES employee or HOM/HOP) in the same way as any other form of official correspondence.

8.2.7 If the purpose of a reference is to influence a decision of the Australian Government (other than a normal reference for an Australian Government recruitment process), staff should seek advice from CEU before agreeing to provide the reference.

8.3 Appropriate Use of Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities

What do I need to do?

APS Employees

8.3.1    Diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities are conferred by host governments on APS employees posted overseas to facilitate the operation of the diplomatic mission or consular post.  They are not conferred for the personal benefit of APS employees or their family members.  APS employees posted overseas must act with integrity in relation to any privilege they may have as diplomatic or consular representatives. 
8.3.2    Abuse of diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities has the potential to harm bilateral relations with the host country, the reputation of the department, and Australia’s standing internationally. It may also leave an employee open to compromise by those who become aware of the abuse. Abuse of diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities may constitute a breach of the APS Code of Conduct and the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service.  It may also constitute a breach of applicable Australian laws.
8.3.3    Key principles are that:

8.3.4    Before any posting overseas, APS employees must familiarise themselves withthe Guidelines on Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities, set out in the General Administration Manual, Chapter 7, Attachment 1.   On arrival at post, APS employees posted overseas must complete and sign the Certificate of Undertaking: Appropriate Use of Diplomatic and Consular privileges which is in the General Administration Manual, Chapter 7, Attachment2.  Throughout their posting, APS employees must comply with the Guidelines on Diplomatic and Consular Privileges and Immunities.  Section 8 of the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service also provides guidance on integrity in the use of diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities. 

8.4 Making Public Comments

What do I need to do?

All Staff

8.4.1    The department recognises the right of staff to participate as private citizens in public discourse and to make public comments in a private capacity.  At the same time, APS employees, LES employees and contractors have responsibilities when they make public comments in a private capacity.The term “public comment” here is used broadly, and includes comment made on political or social issues at public speaking engagements, during radio or television interviews, on the internet (including blogs, social networking sites and other online media), in letters to the press, books or notices, or in academic and in other forumswhere the comment is intended for, or may be accessed by, the community at large.  Specific advice on using social networking tools can be found in Section 8.5.

8.4.2    Section 7.1 of this Manual sets out guidelines on the appropriate use of official and personal information.  Staff who make unauthorised disclosures of official or personal information through public comment may compromise security, commercial interests or privacy, and may also undermine the department’s or their post’s reputation for professionalism.  In this way, they may breach relevant Australian laws, as well as the APS Code of Conduct or their post’s LES Code of Conduct.

8.4.3 Even where their comments are unrelated to official information, staff must exercise judgment and ensure that they are mindful of the APS Values and Employment Principles and Code of Conduct when making any public comment in a private capacity. DFAT staff should ensure, among other things, that they do not undermine Australia’s and the Department’s reputation.

8.4.4 In Chapter 3 of its publication APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice, the APSC provides guidelines to APS employees on making public comments in a private capacity. The department has adapted and extended this advice to all staff (APS employees, LES employees and contractors) in section 8.4.5 below.

8.4.5 Staff of the department (APS employees, LES employee and contractors) may make public comment in a private capacity and as private citizens, as long as they make it clear that they are expressing their own views.  In this context, staff should bear in mind that APS employees must still uphold the APS Values and Employment Principles and Code of Conduct even when material is posted anonymously, or using an ‘alias’ or pseudonym, and that even if they do not identify themselves as an APS employee or an employee of the agency, they could nonetheless be recognised as such. As a rule of thumb, irrespective of the forum, anyone who posts material online should make an assumption that at some point their identity and the nature of their employment will be revealed. As general guiding principles, it is not appropriate for staff to make public comment that is, or could be perceived to be:

At all times, staff members must be mindful of the requirements set out in Public Service Regulation 2.1 concerning the disclosure of information.

8.4.6    The department has procedures in place for clearing all formal or work-related publications, speeches or interviews by staff members on issues of political, economic or social interest.  These are subject to the usual policy clearance processes through parent Divisions and Branches.  Departmental staff intending to publish material in their private capacity, including on the internet or through speeches, should consult the Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Media Branch (AS PMB), where such works could be seen to contain commentary- explicit or otherwise- on subjects of political, economic or social interest.  It is also recommended, AS PMB be made aware of any private dealings staff have with the media which may reasonably become public in circumstances capable of being interpreted as reflecting a departmental view.

8.4.7    Further guidance on this issue and on making public comment in a private capacity generally is set out in Administrative Circular P0805 – Publications, Speeches or Interviews by Departmental Staff in their Private Capacity.

Case Study — Upholding the Reputation of the Department and Australia

A DFAT colleague sent me an e-mail that contained potentially defamatory comments about a key political figure in my current host country.  He sent the e-mail to a number of people.  It was then forwarded to a journalist. He also included his official signature block on the e-mail.  Is he in breach of the APS Code of Conduct?

Your colleague may be in breach of a number of sections of the APS Code of Conduct, including improper use of Commonwealth resources.

By sending the e-mail from his DFAT e-mail address and by attaching his signature block, he has identified himself as a DFAT employee and may have breached the requirement for all APS employees to behave at all times in a way that upholds the APS Values and integrity and good reputation of the APS.  By identifying himself as a DFAT employee, there is a risk that he has damaged the reputation of the APS, particularly if the journalist publishes the information and attributes it to him as a DFAT employee, and especially if the comments are defamatory.

•All information sent on DFAT’s internet and e-mail systems is official information.  It is recorded and can be recalled at any time, including for use as evidence in an investigation.

 

8.5 Using Internet Social Networking Tools, Blogs and Internet Chat Rooms

What do I need to do?

All Staff

8.5.1    The department recognises the value of internet social networking tools (such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) and the opportunities they provide to maintain contact with family and friends.  It also recognises the right of staff to use these toolsin a private capacity, as well as dating agency sites, blogs and internet chat rooms.  At the same time, APS employees, LES employees and contractors have responsibilities when they use these media.The principles that apply to staff making any unofficial public comment also apply to such comment made online.  There are some additional considerations, though, to bear in mind.

8.5.2    APS employees, LES employees and contractors who post text and imageson internet social networking tools,dating agency sites, blogs and internet chat rooms shouldbe aware that such text and images can be accessed widely.   The speed and reach of online communications means that comments posted online are available immediately to a wide audience.  Material online effectively lasts forever, may be replicated endlessly, and may be sent to recipients who were never expected to see it, or who may view it out of context.

8.5.3 The department considers posting text and images on internet social networking tools (such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter), dating agency sites, blogs and internet chat rooms as public comment for the purposes of section 8.4 of this Manual. The APS Values and Employment Principles and Code of Conduct, including Public Service Regulation 2.1, and posts’ LES Code of Conduct apply to using online media in the same way as participating in any other public forum.  The requirements include:

8.5.4    Section 7.1 of this Manual sets out guidelines on the appropriate use of and access to official and personal information.  Section 7.2 of this Manual sets out guidelines on the appropriate use of departmental resources including IT systems, the internet and e-mail.  APS employees, LES employees and contractorsmust ensure that their use of the internet social networking tools, dating agency sites, blogs and internet chat rooms complies with the  guidelines set out in Section 7, and does not compromise security, commercial interests and privacy, nor disrupt the department’s operations.  Employees should not rely on a site's security settings for a guarantee of privacy, as material posted in a relatively secure setting can still be copied and reproduced elsewhere.  Further, comments posted on one site can also be used on others under the terms and conditions of many social media sites.  Social media websites are public forums.  Inappropriate public comments on such sites could put employees at risk of breaching the Codes of Conduct.  If staff have concerns relating to an APS agency, they can seek advice from the APSC Ethics Advisory Service about appropriate avenues for raising these. 

Case Study — Using Blogs

I have an online travel blog where I write about some of my recent travel experiences. I have just arrived at post and I have written a short piece about my first impressions of my host country. On my blog I have already stated that I work for the department. In commenting about the political and economic environment of my host country, I am concerned that I may have disclosed information I received as part of my official duties. Am I in breach of the APS Code of Conduct?

Under the APS Code of Conduct an APS employee must be mindful of the APS Values and Code of Conduct  even when commenting online in a private capacity and make a prudent assumption that their comment will be publicly available and indentifiable.

The Code requires all APS employees to avoid real and apparent conflicts of interest. Therefore, information you publish on your blog may give the appearance of a conflict between your private interests and your ability to do your job as a professional and impartial public servant.  Be mindful of this when choosing what to post. Furthermore, your blog should not be so harsh or extreme in its criticism of Government, the Opposition, or other political parties that it calls into question your capacity to fulfil your duties in an unbiased manner.

An emplyee on duty overseas must at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia.  Comments made by you as a DFAT employee about your host country may therefore constitute a breach of the APS Code of Conduct even though the comments are on a personal blog.  All employees overseas must uphold the good reputation of Australia at all times, not just during work hours.

If your blog contains information gained through your work at DFAT, this may also constitute unauthorised disclosure of official information.  This type of disclosure may constitute a breach of several provisions of the APS Code of Conduct and possibly the Crimes Act 1914.

 

8.5.5 APS employees, LES employees and contractorsmust ensure that they do not disclose any officialinformation (including personal information of individuals held by the department)on the internet. At post, this includes staff details and movements, visits by Ministers and officials, and photographs which may inadvertently capture post security features, such as wall containers (blisters), secure doors and alarm equipment. Staff must abide by the existing policy on taking cameras and mobile phones with cameras into departmental premises in Australia and overseas (see Chapters 9.6 and 9.8 of the DFAT Security Instructions).

Case Study — Using Blogs

I am an A-based officer at post and my partner keeps a blog about our experiences in our host country. My partner has occasionally written about official functions we've attended and about conversations we've had with senior members of the host government at these functions. There's nothing sensitive or political about this blog. Is it OK for my partner to do this?

Unless they are staff members of the department themselves, household members of APS employees serving overseas are not covered directly by the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service, nor are they subject to any departmental directions in relation to conduct.

However, the high visibility of household members as part of an Australian official community means you and your partner need to exercise judgment and caution about the material on your partner's blog. Even where there is no material on the blog which could be construed as official information, indiscreet comments about prominent citizens in your host country could damage the reputation of the department, the post and Australia. In accordance with the DFAT Code of Conduct for Overseas Service (clause 6.3), you must take all reasonable steps to ensure that your partner's blog does not inadvertently damage the reputation of the department, the post and Australia.

8.5.6 Staff should consider their own and others' security and personal safety when placing information on the internet. They must be circumspect about identifying themselves as departmental staff on the internet. They should not place inappropriate or personally embarrassing material on the internet. They must ensure their use of these media on official computers is not excessive, and does not affect or conflict with their official duties.

8.5.7 Staff seeking ethical advice on appropriate use of internet social networking tools, dating agency sites, blogs and internet chat rooms may contact the Conduct and Ethics Unit (CEU) at conduct@dfat.gov.au.To guide staff further, additional case studies on internet social networking tools, blogs and internet chat rooms follow.  The advice contained in these case studies does not constitute legal advice, nor does the department guarantee the completeness of advice contained therein.  Different solutions and outcomes may apply in individual circumstances.

Further Scenarios – Using Internet Social Networking Tools, Blogs and Internet Chat Rooms Example

Possible Response Possible Remedy

I have a www.facebook.com account and identified that I am employed with the department. I am thinking about posting my views about how the current government is dealing with certain social issues. I am currently working on a project that is related to this issue.

The fact that you have declared your employment may suggest to the audience that your comments are made in your capacity as a public servant.

Remove any mention of your employment status and ensure that you do not reference official/classified information that you have access to. Bear in mind that  APS employees must be mindful of the APS Values and Employment Principles and Code even when material is posted anonymously or using a pseudonym.  Your comment should not be so harsh or extreme as to reasonable call into question your capacity to act impartially and professionally.

I was reading a news web blog about a political issue and have strong views about the blog's content. Can I publish a reply to the article on the blog?

APS Employees have a right to participate in public discourse and to make public comments in a private capacity.  However you should not mention of your employment status with DFAT.

Ensure the content in the reply doesn't include any information that would identify you as a public servant or include in your response any references to official/classified information that you have access to. Bear in mind that APS employees must be mindful of the APS Values and Employment Principles and Code even when material is posted anonymously or using an alias/pseudonym. Be prudent and assume that your comment will be public and that you may be identified as its author.

I hosted a Christmas party at my official overseas residence with friends, work colleagues and guests from the diplomatic corps. All had a great time and the fancy dress theme was a great hit.  Can I publish some party photos on my personal blog?

Yes, but it is important that the pictures are in good taste and do not embarrass yourself or the department, and you should respect the privacy of your guests. It is also important to think about whether your personal security or that of your friends may be jeopardised by posting the photos.

The photos would be better distributed through a more secure medium such as personal e-mail.  However, if they are to be published online, ensure the people in the photos are not named and there is no mention of the department or any officers and where possible seek the consent of any persons who can be identified. 

I noticed that a news blog quoted information that was incorrect. Due to my role in the department I know the real facts. Can I reply to the blog and identify who I am?

No, because you may be disclosing official information that is not for public release.  This would be a breach of security.  You should not identify yourself as a DFAT employee when using social networking sites

Discuss your concerns with a supervisor to see if a departmental response or correction is warranted.

I have subscribed to an internet dating site and have identified myself as a DFAT employee. Is this inappropriate?

Yes, it is inappropriate.  You should not identify yourself as a DFAT employee when using social networking sites.  You  should be mindful of your personal security and ensure that you are not disclosing official information that has the potential to embarrass the department.

You should list your occupation as a public servant and not refer to the department.  You should not rely on a sites’ security setting for a guarantee to privacy as material can be copied and reproduced elsewhere.

8.6 Working with Offices of Portfolio Ministers

What do I need to do?

APS Employees

8.6.1 Most communication between Portfolio Ministers and APS employees in the department occurs through Ministerial staff. With the exception of Departmental Liaison Officers (DLOs) who remain APS employees, Ministerial staff are not APS employees - they are employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (the MoP(S) Act), which is administered by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, and the Special Minister of State.

8.6.2 Building and maintaining a constructive relationship with Ministers and their offices are key responsibilities of APS employees. However, it is important to the reputation of the department and the Government that APS employees build and maintain that relationship in accordance with their obligations as APS employees in the department.

8.6.3 In working with Ministerial staff, APS employees should ensure that their interaction upholds the APS Values and Employment Principles, specifically:

8.6.4 APS employees and Ministerial staff should work towards achieving a professional and cooperative relationship. In providing frank, honest, timely and evidence-based advice, trust is crucial. APS employees should be aware that Ministerial staff  provide important guidance about the Ministers’ policy and requirements and, by so doing, help APS employees to be responsive.

8.6.5 The relationship between APS employees and Ministerial staff needs always to recognise that Ministers have final authority and accountability to Parliament, and APS employees, through the Secretary, are responsible to Ministers.

Case Study — Working With Ministerial Advisers

An adviser in the Minister's office phones me to request a brief by the end of the day. Because of the short timeframe, I am asked to email the brief directly to the adviser, rather than submitting it via the department's MIN-NET system. It is not clear to me whether it is the Minister or the adviser who has requested the brief. What should I do?

The establishment of email links between Ministerial staff and APS employees increases the speed and frequency of requests and responses, but reduces their formality. This may lead to some uncertainty as to whether requests or directions are from the Minister or the adviser.

Good practice includes ensuring that employees, or their managers, are always confident that instructions are coming from the Minister by:

  • in the case of Ministerial submissions, requiring the Minister's signature before acting on policy recommendations; and
  • in the case of significant oral requests from Ministerial staff, requiring subsequent confirmation in writing or by email that the request is endorsed by the Minister.

Managing Ethical Conflict

8.6.6 There may be occasions when APS employees receive requests for assistance or action from Ministerial staff which they consider inconsistent with the APS Values or Employment Principles, relevant legislation or departmental policy, or otherwise inappropriate or unethical. In these instances, it is good practice to resolve the situation through discussion and consultation. APS employees should discuss any concerns they have with their supervisor or more senior departmental staff, if their intervention is required.

8.6.7. APS employees when receiving requests for assistance should ensure an appropriate standard of documentation is maintained to demonstrate accountability and transparency when interactions occur between Minister's offices and employees.

8.6.8 Recognising and understanding the different roles and responsibilities between Ministerial staff and APS employees can assist in determining an appropriate course of action in response to a request from Ministerial staff. The distinction can be summarised as follows:

8.6.9 When determining an appropriate course of action in response to a request from Ministerial staff, it is also useful for APS employees to familiarise themselves with the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff (see Chapter 3.6 of this Manual). The Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff binds all Ministerial staff employed under the MoP(S) Act. (DLOs are APS employees and are bound by the APS Code of Conduct.) Among the key elements of the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff are the requirements that Ministerial staff:

8.6.10 Further guidance on working with the Government and the Parliament is set out in Chapter 2 of the APSC’s APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice, the Cabinet Handbook and the Prime Minister’s Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility.

Case Study — Caretaker Government

It is a week since the Federal Election was announced and I have received a request from the Minister's office that the department prepare a list of key portfolio-related successes in selected regional areas, including the Minister's own electorate. While no reason for the request has been given, its seems clear that this information will be used during the election campaign. How should I respond?

Ministers may continue to request factual material from agencies during the caretaker period and material relating to the day-to-day business of government is supplied to Ministers in the usual way. However, to avoid controversy in the election period about claimed breaches of the apolitical and impartial values of the APS, it may be appropriate to decline a request for assistance if it requires the use of significant resources and is intended clearly for use in the election campaign. If in doubt, agencies should discuss with the Minister or his/her senior staff the purpose for which the material is to be used.

In most instances, agencies should also decline requests for policy advice during the caretaker period. There might, however, be urgent domestic or international issues on which policy advice should clearly be provided to Ministers to allow responsible ongoing administration or to protect Australia's interests.

Employees with any queries or concerns about possible breaches of the caretaker arrangements should consult the "Guidance on Caretaker Conventions", which is issued by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the commencement of a new Federal Election. Any DFAT-specific concerns should be referred to the department's Executive Branch.