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Freedom to Tweet Before High Court

To tweet or not to tweet?

That is the question that employees have had to ask themselves if they value their job security.

But a High Court case could change that, enabling employees to express their criticisms of their employer on Twitter in their spare time.

Even if that employer is the government.

Free report: Australia’s right to free speech is under attack! Discover how a select group of Australians want to stifle your fundamental right to speak your mind — and what you can do to help turn the tide.

Where to draw the line?

Freedom of speech and defamation go hand in hand as a thin, blurry line we find ourselves facing more often than not these days.

To put this into practice, let us explain the case of Michaela Banerji, fired from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in 2013.

The reason for her sacking?

Ms Banerji was the commander of an anonymous Twitter account, ‘LaLegale’, which publicly criticised the agency in 9,000 tweets between 2006 and 2012.

The account is still in use by Ms Banerji.

It was later found that all but one of the tweets was sent from outside the office and from her mobile phone.

According to the ABC, at the time her tweets covered topics from ‘our invasion of Iraq’ and offshore processing.

However, confidential information was not disclosed in the tweets.

Following complaints by staff, an investigation was held — assessing whether she breached the public service code of conduct.

The result? Michaela Banerji was fired.

Sounds pretty clear-cut, right? Do the wrong thing, get the boot?

Well, call it the world we live in, but a simple firing wasn’t the end of it.

Case taken to the High Courts

When Ms Banerji received her termination notice in September of 2013, she claimed to have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and lodged a worker’s compensation claim a month later.

AAP reports that the claim was refused, on the basis that her dismissal was of ‘reasonable administrative action’. This decision was then affirmed by an internal interview in 2014.

Not satisfied, she contacted the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who found her termination was ‘not reasonable administration action taken in a reasonable manner’. The tribunal then upheld her compensation claim.

Further, the group argued that the public service’s rules around the use of social media and making comment were ‘unacceptably trespassed on the implied freedom of political communication.

Because of this, her case is today being taken to the High Court by the compensation agency Comcare, arguing that the tribunal erred in its interpretation of public service rules.

Who is in the right?

So, is this a case for the people, and for all employees in exercising freedom of speech? Or is this a case of companies trusting their employees with being confidential, and failing?

In the submission of the case, it said that anyone entering public service must know that the job ‘involves acceptance of certain restraints’ and to ‘exercise caution when it comes to making criticisms of the government’.

As do most.

And such rules are not exempt from public servants. They are hired to be apolitical, so they can therefore ‘protect and enhance’ Australia’s form of government.

The topic is a divider.

As the account was not used while in the office, should public servants be able to voice these opinions, if kept anonymous?

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The Australian Tribune Editorial

The Australian Tribune Editorial

The Australian Tribune is an unorthodox news service. Your Australian Tribune editorial team deliver the unfiltered stories that could impact your daily life — political and economic stories you’re unlikely to get anywhere else. And we’re not afraid to step on some toes to do it. We are honest, conservative and never dull. We are an independent service, meaning we don’t answer to shareholders or outside advertisers. This helps avoid conflicts of interest that inhibit mainstream sources, which keeps our voice independent. The Australian Tribune is owned and operated by Port Phillip Publishing.
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