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Australia’s free speech failure

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ON Wednesday, August 7, the High Court of Australia found the government’s decision to dismiss a public servant to be lawful. Formerly an employee of the Department of Home Affairs, Michaela Banerji was fired for anonymously tweeting her displeasure at the government’s asylum seeker policies.

Regardless of one’s views on tweets, the government, or asylum seekers, the fact that such a decision was in line with the constitution draws into question the suitability of Australia’s implied – rather than explicit – right to free political expression.

The government supported this decision on the grounds of protecting the sanctity of political independence. The attorney general was supportive of the ruling, saying that it supported the ‘status quo’ by maintaining the perception of partisan independence of government departments.

Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton also voiced support for the ruling, suggesting that public servants speaking on political matters were ‘sneaky’, while Senator James Paterson suggested that public servants should be free to speak only about issues unrelated to their departments.

SEE ALSO: Australian watchdog calls for controls on Facebook, Google

The court, however, was less concerned with employee-employer relationships. Its focus was whether the constitution’s implied provision of free political expression applied to public servants. Their findings were clear: it did not.

According to their judgement, unless a law impacted the sum total of Australia’s political expression, it would not breach the constitution.........

© Asian Correspondent