Daniel Starr v DHS: laws on public servants' free speech

The right to criticise government should be protected, not punished, in a liberal democracy.

The Fair Work Commission’s recent reinstatement of a long-serving Centrelink officer is a blow to the federal government in its ongoing battle over its ability to regulate the private lives of APS employees. Yet the Department of Human Services’ decision to appeal suggests it will not give up without a fight.

Over the past decade, frontline Centrelink employee Daniel Starr had anonymously posted work-related comments on internet forums out of hours. Most were of a helpful nature, advising benefit applicants of likely processing times, although some were undoubtedly objectionable: at one point Starr labelled clients “spastics and junkies” and on another occasion he said he was “embarrassed to work” at Centrelink.

Starr’s troubles began when he began contradicting a departmental social media officer who posted on the same forum. The officer repeatedly said that the estimated processing time for certain applications was 21 days, while Starr explained that the target had in fact been changed to 42 days. Although his posts were forthright – “Please Flick, you need to stop giving this incorrect information” – they were hardly rude. Read the full article here.

Written by John Wilson, Employment Law Director.