Increasingly, business and Government rely on the internet for their shop front. With the next Victorian state election scheduled for 24 November this year, and the Caretaker period about to start, it is timely for Victorian Public Sector (VPS) agencies to consider how caretaker conventions will impact on their internet presence.
This blog summarises some requirements contained in the 2018 Caretaker Guidelines relating to websites. The Caretaker period spans the time the Legislative Assembly expires until the election result is clear or a new Government is appointed. It is scheduled to commence at 6pm on 30 October for the 2018 election, unless the Assembly is dissolved before that date.
While the business of government and public administration continue during the caretaker period, there are established practices associated with the caretaker conventions to ensure that the apolitical nature of the VPS is protected and that State resources are not used to advantage a particular political party. This extends to websites and social media accounts that an Agency funds and/or maintains.
Many agencies have broader responsibilities than their own sites or social media accounts. For example, they may maintain Ministerial websites and or websites for special policies, events or similar. While Agencies are expected to review all sites and accounts at the commencement of the caretaker period, given the vast number of website pages that Agencies now curate, it is wise that these reviews commence in advance of the caretaker period.
So what do Agencies need to review?
Agencies need to ensure that their resources are not used, or seen to be used, to support any particular political party. In general, material already online prior to the caretaker period may remain. There are, however, some exceptions such as recent Ministerial media releases that are highly critical of the Opposition or other non-Government parties or anything that could be construed to be promoting a Government policy.
In the case of special sites and social media accounts, Agencies should consider whether they are likely to be contentious in the election campaign and, if so, whether it is appropriate for the Agency to continue its involvement.
What can an Agency add during Caretaker period?
It is less straightforward, however, when it comes to putting new material online. Generally speaking, new material should be limited to factual information and information on existing policies and programmes. This includes posts on social media accounts. Agencies are advised to add a disclaimer on homepages advising of this approach, and to highlight that links to external websites are not maintained or funded by the State.
Where an Agency is responsible for maintaining a Ministerial website, they cannot add any election-related material, including future policies or election commitments. It is permissible for the maintenance of the site to be transferred to the Minister and be maintained by Ministerial staff. However, should this occur, there must be no cost to the State and a notice must be added advising that the Agency has not been responsible for the site since the commencement of caretaker period.
Where can I get more information?
The Department of Premier and Cabinet has published guidance on 2018 caretaker conventions that provide further information about how Agencies should manage the Internet and Electronic Communications.
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IMAGE: Parliament, Spring Street, Melbourne. By Max Goupil.
Written by Julia Cornwell-McKean and Pauline Bernard.
[category courtheath's blog]
election, caretaker, VPS