The Australian Taxation Office announces social media lock down

Just under couple of years ago I had a few words to say about the Taxation Office's Corporate Management Practice Statement on digital media. The document was in draft at that stage. Yes. It was the some old game. Create fear, uncertainty and doubt to shut people up.

Recently, I was asked to provide another party with my views on the latest version. Well, all up it has taken the Taxation Office just under three years to hone the documents into a weapon to shut people up.

This is not new of course. The majority of Australian Public Service agencies follow the guidance provided by the Public Service Commission. Be careful you might breach the APS Code of Conduct and, my favourite, Don't be so harsh in your criticism as to bring your agency or the APS into disrepute. Never mind that it's in the public interest to actually be talking about what is wrong and how the joint needs fixing up. And never mind that other pesky matter. The truth.

Here are some gems from the Corporate Management Practice Statement

Managers need to consider and manage situations where the relationship between an employee's professional interests and their ATO employment may create ambiguity about the capacity in which the employee’s comments are being made. In some circumstances, it may be necessary to direct the employee not to make a make a comment.

When using digital media (even in a private capacity) employees are expected to uphold the APS Values, APS Employment Principles, APS Code of Conduct and ATO Corporate Values. Unofficial use of digital media outside of work can still have consequences if inappropriate comments or actions (e.g. posting inappropriate images) are found to have a connection with your employment.

ATO personnel using digital media for communicating with audiences in an official or unofficial (professional or private) capacity are to adhere to this CMPS and associated CMPI. ATO personnel are also to adhere to the APS Values, APS Employment Principles, APS Code of Conduct and ATO Values as part of all digital communication. Failure to comply may result in consequences including but not limited to the removal of system access, official reprimand, disciplinary action, termination of employment and/or prosecution.

But wait. Just like those revolting TV commercials, there's more. There is the wonderful Corporate Management Practice instructions. More gems. More of the same.

Private use relates to the use of social media by ATO employees for private, non-work or job-related purposes in their own time using their own resources as private citizens, or using ATO IT facilities during work hours. This may include accessing and using your private Twitter account.

Must uphold the APS Values and Code of Conduct even when posting material anonymously, or using an ‘alias’ or pseudonym, and are to keep in mind that even if they do not identify themselves online as an ATO employee, they could still be recognised.

And I love these two,

The strengths of digital media also pose a threat to the ATO through the permanency, speed and reach of online communications. 

While access to most social networking sites is blocked from the ATONet environment, unofficial use of social media outside of work can still have consequences if the comments are found to have a connection with your employment.

So the key messages are:

  • No matter where you are, no matter when you tweet. We are watching you.

  • Don't you dare say anything remotely critical at all.

  • Freedom of speech? Forget it. You are owned by the APS.

  • Talk about public interest issues on line? Forget it.

These are quite turgid documents to read. With than in mind I've extracted the 'lowlights' from the full documents.

Digital media CMPS lowlights

Digital media CMPI lowlights

If you want the full corporate experience I have also provided the complete documents.

Digital media CMPS

Digital media CMPI

Read on.

Yep. That's the APS in 2013. With the Taxation Office leading the charge. Open, transparent and honest. Just make sure you are quiet about it. That way we get to hide our dirty linen and keep our vassals - oops, employees - under control.

What is most disconcerting about this state of affairs is the blatant attempt to censor legitimate conversation. This has no place in a modern public service and, quite frankly, is far from healthy. Practices such as these are not simply internal matters. They are a piece of the puzzle associated with a book I am writing.

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Comment by Prof Freud on July 17, 2013 at 3:48pm

I came across this recently

At its meeting of 11/12 February 1997, the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (the Commission) endorsed the following jurisdictional principles to apply when using Independent Legally Qualified Medical Practitioners:


1.    The practice of “doctor shopping”, which means the seeking of an opinion from a doctor who is known to hold particular views (adverse to claimant or employer) on specific medical conditions or issues, is not condoned by the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission.


2.    An independent legally qualified medical practitioner’s (LQMP’s) opinion should only be sought where, in the opinion of the delegate:

·          the claimant does not receive treatment from a LQMP with relevant qualifications; or/and

·          the treating medical opinion/s is/are inconclusive; or/and

·          further specialised opinion is reasonably required; or/and

·          conflicts of opinion between treating doctors must be resolved.


Comment by steve davies on July 17, 2013 at 10:48am
And we know just the psychiatrists to do the job.
Comment by Deep S on July 17, 2013 at 9:29am

CMPS states:

"Must uphold the APS Values and Code of Conduct even when posting material anonymously, or using an ‘alias’ or pseudonym, and are to keep in mind that even if they do not identify themselves online as an ATO employee, they could still be recognised."

Unbelievable! Can you just imagine how paranoid these buggers really are?

IMHO the people who are responsible for this paragraph, from inception right up to approval, ought to be referred for psychiatric examination.

Comment by Janice Speary on July 15, 2013 at 11:19pm
well I have a few phrases for them which I'll save for a rainy day. Are they that paranoid that they have to concoct these ridiculous 'we are going to try to control you' documents? How is that creating a healthy workplace? Better yet the ATO has a major issue with dis-engagement and unplanned leave, well this policy is definitely going to fix those issues isn't it. Honestly their level of reasoning is beyond me
Comment by Deep S on July 15, 2013 at 5:28pm

Well said Cathie. This mob certainly create fear of, and loathing for, the ATO! But its underground and cannot have good longterm consequences for the ATO.

What it does though is to ensure that the SES get their performance pay because everyone is just soooooo happy with the ATO and there are absolutely no complaints.

The question is - do the CMPS and CMPI fail the APS Values, etc??????

Personally I did not expect anything else from this lot - my views are well known. They use the APS Values / CoC as a tool to control staff - always have. This just demonstrates it.

Comment by Prof Freud on July 15, 2013 at 4:42pm


Where a climate of FUD is created, people understandably become more afraid to take risks and to do much at all, therefore.


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