Public service Facebook warning is a dire state of affairs

Now clap louder: Public servants could be punished if they don't react firmly on Facebook.
Now clap louder: Public servants could be punished if they don't react firmly on Facebook.

OPINION

Funny business, free speech.

But not so funny that the humourless functionaries atop the public service think they can’t top it.

This week’s punchline was a warning that a public servant, already living in fear of speaking publicly or to the media, could be in trouble for Facebook likes.

Not only were they warned about liking or sharing material that criticised gummint policy – they were also told they could breach the code of conduct if they don’t delete or oppose such posts.

“If someone does post material of this kind, it may be sensible to delete it or make it plain that you don’t agree with it or support it,” warned public service boss John Lloyd. “Any breach of the code … would come from how you reacted to it.”

Speech crime, thought crime, react crime! With dire consequences. As the public service union said, a Centrelink worker whose son is gay could like a Facebook post in support of same-sex marriage – and if it goes against gummint policy she falls foul of the code, and could be sacked.

If her friends post strong criticism of gummint marriage policy on her timeline, and she doesn’t delete the comments or defend the policy, she’s also in in trouble.

It’s hard not to think of the crazy clapping competitions in North Korea where subjects try and be the most fervent in their applause or praise for the Dear Leader.

Yep, freedom of speech is a funny bird in Australia. Some “advocates” defended vociferously Andrew Bolt’s “right” to offend Aboriginal people, for instance. Then they fall silent in defence of speech they don’t like – as Yassmin Abdel-Magied was hounded out of the country after using Anzac Day to criticise Australia’s refugee policy.

In the absence of a bill of rights, it’s up to us to decide democratically what restrictions we will and won’t accept on our speech. And enforcing support for any gummint’s PR game isn’t part of the Australia I know.