Gov can direct public servants to do work supporting Voice

Victorian public servants have been told they can be directed to do work supporting an Aboriginal Voice to parliament, and if they don’t like it to ask for other duties.

A referendum on the Voice, to be held later this year, will ask the nation if it approves changing the Constitution to enshrine in it a First Nations Voice to Parliament, which will most likely take the form of an advisory body of some sort.

The Victorian government has agreed under a National Cabinet Statement of Intent to support a Yes vote.

Rights and obligations

A Victorian Public Sector Commission circular sent to public sector employers and staff advises them of their rights and obligations in relation to the Voice Referendum, which include doing “work which supports the Victorian Government’s alignment with the National Cabinet Statement of Intent”.

“If you are in this category, you will need to be particularly careful in any personal comments you might make on the referendum, given the connection to your official duties,” it says.

“You will likely have to be more careful in making public comments in your personal life than if you were not doing this work.”

The circular adds that employees who feel uncomfortable undertaking such work should speak to their manager about arranging other duties until the referendum has been held.

Lawful right

In advice to managers, the circular says that the government of the day can lawfully ask public servants to undertake work supporting the Voice, in line with the state’s signing of the Statement of Intent, “as these employees must implement the policies and programs of the elected government”.

“If your organisation is involved in work in support of the National Cabinet Statement of Intent, you can ask employees to be involved in this work,” the Commission says.

If your organisation is involved in work in support of the National Cabinet Statement of Intent, you can ask employees to be involved in this work.

Victorian Public Sector Commission

“However, you may wish to contemplate alternative duties for any employees expressing discomfort about being asked to do this work.”

Public discussion

The circular says Victorian public sector employees have the freedom to participate in the referendum process in a private capacity, including engaging in public discussion, as long as they comply with public sector values, legislation and codes of conduct.

However, it notes that some circumstances will make compliance difficult for public servants, particularly in relation to seniority and connections to polices and programs that support the Voice.

“This means that while public sector employees may have personal views on the referendum, in expressing these views publicly they still need to comply with their public sector obligations either in or outside the workplace,” the advice says.

Ban on campaign material

The Public Sector Commission says while employees shouldn’t display campaign material in the workplace, can can show support for First Nations staff without expressing a position on the referendum, such as wearing lanyards and badges with the Aboriginal Flag.

Employers, meanwhile, are advised that they can’t adopt a yes position for their organisaion or encourage employees to vote in a particular way, and are banned from encouraging employees to wear items like lanyards or badges advocating a particular position on the Voice.

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