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Unofficial Aus Govt  Social Media Handbook - Summary of Government guidelines

Page history last edited by Jen Calipari 11 years, 7 months ago

Important notice and disclaimer
This Social Media Handbook is not officially endorsed by the Australian Government. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government or any other individuals or organisations.


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Official use of online communication 

This falls into two basic types:


Agencies utilising existing external communication platforms to canvass stakeholders and to disseminate information, including clarifying misinformation, on specific or ongoing policies and programs.


Agencies setting up their own discussion forums or other online communication platforms for the same purposes.  These may be ongoing or they may be established for a specific time-limited proposal or initiative. They may be open to the public or access may be confined to a particular group of stakeholders.


The official use of online media to explain and provide information on government policies and programs follows the same general policies and guidelines that apply to the use of other media and forums. The relevant government guidelines are:

  • APSC Circular 2009/6, Protocols for online media participation  
  • APSC Circular No 2007/5: Involvement of public servants in public information and awareness initiatives.
  • APSC publications APS Values and APS Code of Conduct
  • AGIMO Government Online Standards
  • Finance publication Guidelines on Campaign Advertising, June 2008


APSC Circular 2009/6: Protocols for online media participation

(supercedes APSC Circular 2008/8: Interim protocols for online media participation)


The purpose of this circular, which has been prepared in conjunction with the Australian Government Information Management Office, is to advise agencies:

  • of new guidance for APS employees participating in online media that encourages involvement in robust policy conversations in a professional and respectful manner; and
  • that the interim protocols released with Circular 2008/08 are no longer current and that circular has been withdrawn.

APSC Circular No 2007/5: Guidelines on the involvement of public servants in public information and awareness initiatives 


These guidelines set out the ethical issues that need to be taken into consideration when public servants, including agency heads, in their official capacity, become involved in helping to explain and implement government policies and programs. The guidelines also implement the government’s policy commitment not to use public servants in government advertising unless that role is essential in the communication of an important message on an issue such as public health or similar.


While it is the responsibility of individual agencies to develop strategies that most effectively explain and implement the policies and programmes of the government of the day, any perception of politicisation or bias in these strategies can affect the reputation of the APS as a whole.  These guidelines provide a framework for a consistent approach to managing public information and awareness initiatives.


APS Values and APS Code of Conduct 



The APS Values form the enduring framework that defines the APS.

The principles of good public administration, embodied in the APS Values, lie at the heart of the democratic process and the confidence the public has in the way public servants exercise authority when meeting government objectives. Good public administration is a protection not only against inefficiency and poor performance, but also against fraud, corruption, inequity, inability to conduct business confidently and infringement of human rights.


The APS Values and APS Code of Conduct are not simply aspirations; they are mandatory. A breach of the code of conduct can result in sanctions, ranging from a reprimand to termination of employment. All APS employees are required to uphold the values and comply with the code of conduct. Failure to do so may attract sanctions. Agency heads (and the Senior Executive Service) are required also to promote the values. The Public Service Commissioner is empowered to evaluate the extent to which agencies incorporate and uphold the values and the adequacy of systems and procedures to ensure compliance with the code.


The principles of apoliticism, impartiality, professionalism, responsiveness and accountability are at the heart of strong, productive relationships between the APS and the elected government. These values need to be considered together as a set. Most of the time they complement each other; at other times they need to be balanced so that no single value is pressed to the point that it conflicts directly with another.


APS employees, ministers and parliamentarians operate under the law within a democratic political system in which there is ultimate accountability of governments to the AustralianNew Nokia Phones people through the electoral process. They also operate within a framework of accountability and external review where the courts and various offices established by the Parliament, such as the Auditor-General, tribunals and the Ombudsman, operate as checks and balances within the system. A sound appreciation of the respective role of the Parliament, the executive and the judiciary is essential.


Ministers and governments as the elected representatives of the Australian people determine and define the public interest. Public servants advise and implement—assisting governments to deliver their policy agenda and priorities.

They share an objective of achieving better outcomes for the Australian community.


APS Values 


The APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner.


The APS is openly accountable for its actions, within the framework of ministerial responsibilities to the government, the Parliament and the Australian public.


The APS is responsive to the government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the government’s policies and programs.


The APS delivers services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public and is sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public.


APS Code of Conduct 


An APS employee must behave honestly and with integrity in the course of APS employment.


An APS employee must act with care and diligence in the course of APS employment.


An APS employee, when acting in the course of APS employment, must comply with all applicable Australian laws.


An APS employee must maintain appropriate confidentiality about dealings that the employee has with any minister or minister’s member of staff.


An APS employee must not make improper use of: (a) inside information, or (b) the employee’s duties, status, power or authority in order to gain, or seek to gain, a benefit or advantage for the employee or for any other person.


An APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and the good reputation of Australia.


An APS employee must comply with any other conduct requirement that is prescribed by the regulations.


Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff 

The Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff was tabled in the Senate by the then Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, on 26 June 2008.


The Code applies to ministerial staff employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984. It covers all ministerial employees, including the personal and electorate office staff of ministers as well as consultants engaged by ministers. It sets out the standards of personal integrity, professionalism and behaviour that are expected of ministerial staff, including a requirement to treat with respect and courtesy all those with whom they have contact in the course of their employment. It includes provisions covering working relationships between ministerial staff and APS employees recognising the distinct role of ministerial staff in providing advice and assistance to ministers but making it clear that they do not have the power to direct APS employees in their own right and that executive decisions are the preserve of ministers and public servants.


Together with the APS Values and Code of Conduct, the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff helps set the framework for the working relationship between agencies and ministerial offices. APS agencies should therefore ensure that all employees who are likely to have communications with ministerial staff, including those employed in electorate offices, are aware of the existence of the Code and where it can be accessed. In their dealings with ministerial staff, APS employees should also be mindful of their responsibilities under the APS Values and Code of Conduct to maintain appropriate confidentiality as well as remaining apolitical and impartial. References to the Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff should be incorporated into internal agency guidelines.


Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) Government Online standards 

Guidelines for ministerial and departmental Websites 





The maintenance of websites by departments and agencies can raise particular issues related to the guarding of the impartial, apolitical, professional nature of the APS. It is important that departments consider carefully the content of their websites and those they maintain on behalf of their ministers.


Australian Government departments and agencies are responsible for deciding what information to place on their websites. They are guided by the APS Values, which are set out in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999. The values require APS agencies to provide high quality, professional support to the government but at the same time to do so on a basis that is free from political bias and political influence.


An important element of maintaining the proper use of official resources and the apolitical nature of the public service is the avoidance of official involvement in the personal or party political activity of ministers. Departmentally funded websites should not therefore contain information about a minister's activities or views that have no relationship to official duties (e.g. favourite books or diaries of children's activities). Ministers can establish personal websites at their own expense for such purposes.


Departmentally funded websites should not contain material of a party political nature. Some judgement will of course be needed. Ministers in the explanation and defence of government policies will draw distinctions between government and opposition policies and might attack the policies of the opposition. Such material may be placed on the ministerial website funded by the department. It is not in order, however, for material that relates solely to party political issues or that could be categorised as "how to vote" material to be placed on a departmentally funded site.



Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a system is usable by as many people as possible without modification. Web pages often have access issues for people with disabilities or with technological constraints.

Australian Government departments and agencies are also required to maximise their use of new technologies by ensuring that their websites address access and equity issues for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.


Definition of Campaign Advertising 



The underlying principles governing the use of public funds for government information and advertising campaigns (‘campaigns’) are that:

all members of the public have equal rights to access comprehensive information about government policies, programs and services which affect their entitlements, rights and obligations.

Governments may legitimately use public funds for information programs or education campaigns to explain government policies, programs or services and to inform members of the public of their obligations, rights and entitlements.

Government campaigns shall not be conducted for party political purposes.


Guideline 1: material should be relevant to government responsibilities

The subject matter of material to be communicated to the public should be directly related to the government’s responsibilities.


Guideline 2: material should be presented in an objective, fair and accessible manner

The material communicated must be presented in an explanatory, fair, objective and accessible manner. Where information is presented as a fact, it should be based on accurate, verifiable facts, and expressed in conformity with those facts. No factual claim should be made which cannot be substantiated.


Guideline 3: material should not be directed at promoting party political interests

The dissemination of information using public funds should not be directed at fostering a positive impression of a particular political party or promoting party political interests. The information and material presented in a campaign should not:

  • mention the party in government by name
  • directly attack or scorn the views, policies or actions of others such as the policies and opinions of opposition parties or groups
  • include party-political slogans or images
  • be designed to influence public support for a political party, a candidate for election, a minister or MP
  • refer or link to the websites of politicians or political parties.


Guideline 4: Advertising must comply with legal requirements

Material, the manner of presentation and the delivery of the campaign
must comply with all relevant laws including:

  • laws with respect to broadcasting and media
  • privacy laws
  • intellectual property laws
  • electoral laws
  • trade practices and consumer protection laws
  • workplace relations laws.

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