The caretaker period: new AGIMO advice and temporary changes to the running of the AGIMO blog

Ann Steward - AGIMO
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The Governor-General has accepted the Prime Minister’s recommendation to dissolve Parliament and to set an election for 21 August 2010 for the House of Representatives and half the Senate. As a result, the Government is now in what is known as the ’caretaker period’. During the caretaker period the Australian Public Service (APS) follows what are known as the Caretaker Conventions.

During the caretaker period agencies can still continue with many of their pre-existing “business-as-usual” processes, including communicating online as part of these processes. However, an important part of the Caretaker Conventions is that Commonwealth resources, including online resources such as this blog and other social media tools operated by agencies, cannot be used to communicate material which advantages any party in an election campaign. These measures are not specifically intended to curb free speech or discourage political discussion among the community; rather they are to protect the apolitical nature of the APS.

AGIMO is part of the Department of Finance and Deregulation and as such we must now observe the Caretaker Conventions. Reflecting this, the AGIMO blog is now in caretaker mode and I think it’s important to articulate how we at AGIMO will manage this blog during this time. We will take extra care to ensure that any content posted to the site, either by us or the public, complies with the requirements of the Caretaker Conventions.

As the Guidance on Caretaker Conventions (PDF 111k) from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet states, this means that during the caretaker period agencies need to carefully consider their use of online engagement tools:

6.2.9 The interactive functions of websites within the domain such as discussion groups, chat rooms or blogs which allow unmoderated comment or debate should be moderated during the caretaker period. Words along the following lines might be appropriate: “In the period preceding an election for the House of Representatives, the Australian Government assumes a caretaker role. It is important during that time that Australian Government resources are not used to communicate political material. As this website is hosted by the [Department of …], the site will be moderated from the time the House of Representatives is dissolved until after the election to ensure that political material is not placed on the site.”.

Expanding on this guidance and in consultation with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the AGIMO Web Guide team has also developed some guidelines for APS agencies which fall under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 about managing online engagement tools during the caretaker period.

In terms of this blog, we plan to continue using post-moderation on all comments. You can read our moderation policy to see what this means – essentially all comments appear automatically unless they are caught in our automated spam and profanity filter. If comments containing political material appear on the blog, we are obliged under the Caretaker Conventions to remove them. If this approach proves unworkable, we may need to switch to pre-moderation (where all comments are approved in advance before appearing on the blog).

During the caretaker period, we will also close comments on  several posts made on this blog by Ministers. We will continue to use, and or, refine the blog’s automated filters to help prevent any potentially political material appearing in comments.

Australian Public Servants using social media during the caretaker period should also review the Australian Public Service Commission guidelines on APS values and Code of Conduct in practice.

I would like to reiterate that these measures are not designed to prevent the public from becoming involved in the election process, but instead aim to preserve the apolitical nature of the APS. While you may not be able to discuss political matters on the AGIMO blog or other APS websites during the caretaker period, you do of course have the option of doing so on a range of other online forums.

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Last updated: 27 July 2016