There is an important national conversation underway about the referendum on The Voice which will be held later this year. All Australians should feel they are able to participate, and each person will have their own personal view on The Voice and how they intend to vote.
For those who work in the public sector, like with state and federal elections, they need to be mindful of their role as public sector officers. The public sector is an important public institution that is independent, impartial and apolitical – while also servicing the priorities of the government of the day.
The WA Government, along with all other state and territory governments, supports enshrining The Voice in the Australian Constitution. This means that some employees, through their agencies, will be involved in directly supporting the government’s position. In many ways this is no different to the usual work employees do every day, for example implementing government policies, drafting legislation and writing speeches for ministers. What is different is that each employee has the opportunity to vote on The Voice later this year.
The following aims to help employees make informed decisions about their personal participation in The Voice conversation.
A guiding principle for employees participating in the debate on The Voice in a personal capacity is whether this compromises the reputation of their agency or confidence in the public sector as an impartial institution.
It is worthwhile noting that the more intense the participation and the more senior the role, the higher the risk that employee behaviour could be seen to compromise their public sector duty to work with integrity, impartiality and respect for others.
In their own time (such as before and after work, during work breaks and on weekends if not scheduled to work) employees can participate in public conversations and actions in relation to The Voice.
This can include:
- participating in door knocking, mailouts, phone polling and other volunteer campaign activities
- engaging in public conversations including making comments in a personal capacity
- taking part in rallies and events
- encouraging participation in the referendum.
They can also speak with family, friends and work colleagues about their views on The Voice.
In all these situations, they should make it clear that their participation is in a personal capacity and their views are personal.
When participating in The Voice activities in a personal capacity, it is also important for employees to not give the impression that they are acting in an official capacity.
They can do this by not:
- wearing a work uniform that identifies them as public sector employees
- posting about The Voice on social media accounts where their employing agency or position is named or otherwise identifiable
- creating the perception in other ways that they are acting in their roles as public sector employees.
In the workplace
From now until the referendum date (and even after), it is important for public sector workplaces to be respectful and tolerant of the differences of opinion in relation to The Voice.
Some employees, particularly First Nations employees, may find parts of the public commentary and debate distressing. All employees should have an eye out to ensure the wellbeing of those they work with and offer support including use of employee assistance programs and other avenues.
It is worthwhile noting that the more senior an employee’s role, the more likely it is that their professional position may be known. This may require them to specifically and proactively state that their participation in activities is in a personal capacity.
This is a good time for employees to remind themselves of the Code of Ethics that applies to all public sector employees as well as their own agency code of conduct and policies such as conflicts of interest, use of resources (including photocopying, vehicles, stationery and IT equipment) and communications (including email signatures, digital screens, social media and display areas) among others.
These documents help employees understand the difference between their personal participation and their role as public sector officers.
It is also important for employees to understand when they need to seek any necessary authorisations and how to do this in line with agency procedures.
For example, if an employee wishes to make a significant contribution to campaigns or other activities that will impact their work, they need to apply for leave. If they believe their personal participation may result in a conflict of interest (actual, potential or perceived), it is important to discuss this with their manager and, if required, complete a declaration so it can be managed appropriately.
Who to speak with
If you have questions about your personal participation in The Voice campaigning or events and how this may impact your responsibilities as a public sector officer, speak with your manager in the first instance.
In some cases, the answers may not be straightforward so working through and discussing scenarios are both useful and important.
Information about The Voice referendum is at voice.niaa.gov.au.