The NSW Public Service Association has hoodwinked The Sydney Morning Herald into publishing a very high-minded story about freedom of opinion, neatly masking the fact that the union’s members have been running a dirty and s-xist campaign of abuse via the Internet.

Today’s Page 2 story by the Herald’s IT writer Asher Moses bombastically claimed the NSW Department of Corrective Services was “using strong arm tactics to stifle dissent and invade officers’ private lives” after the department sent warning letters to 12 officers who have been waging a campaign via the Internet site, Facebook.

The departmental letters warned the officers they could face disciplinary action — ranging from a caution or reprimand to dismissal — over Facebook comments they had been posting against the NSW
Government’s plans to privatise two of the State’s jails, Parklea and Cessnock.

Merrily editorialising in what purported to be a news story, Moses said: “The threat is a test of how relevant employment laws are in the internet age when people are accustomed to having conversations using sites such as Facebook and Twitter.”

The reporter blithely added that the Facebook comments were “suggestions on how the Government could save money on jails without privatising” and allowed PSA official Stewart Little to tut-tut about this unheard of invasion of prison officers’ lives.

“It just seems extraordinary to me that a department would go to such lengths as to monitor a chat room on the internet,” fumed Little. “Obviously this is a new territory and it suggests a strong-arm tactic
by a department that’s really in a new confrontational phase of its privatisation campaign.”

What the article neglects to say is that the Facebook entries include disgraceful and s-xist comments by the prison officers on their fellow departmental employees, including several women. Perhaps female members of the PSA might be horrified to learn that Little is defending vile, personal attacks on female staffers, some of them fellow union members. In one case a female employee of the department is attacked by two male prison officers she has never met who call her a “mutt”, “putrid”, make comments about her body and her appearance, suggest she should be sacked and then issue a threat against her safety the next time she visits one of the Department’s correctional centres.

In other entries, the officers have made comments about their target’s s-x lives, weight and personal relationships.

Among other senior Departmental executives targeted in the Facebook attacks is an assistant commissioner who has sent a lawyer’s letter accusing officers of defamation. Around 2000 Facebook entries have been made since October last year and were publicly available until the authors “switched off” the site and went private, around the time they received warning letters from the department.

Presumably, the PSA’s Stewart Little would have been happy to see a FaceBook open season on his former colleagues at the NSW Parliamentary Library in the event of an industrial dispute: the female librarians, in particular, would enjoy being called “slags” etc.

And one wonders whether Moses would raise the flag of freedom of expression if there was an organized FaceBook campaign on the private lives, the looks and clothing of the professional women of Fairfax Media.

There are two issues here: the right to oppose jail privatization and whether union members can claim free speech in making scandalous and hurtful personal attacks on department officers.

In attempting to defending the indefensible, the PSA (and the Herald) should spare a thought for the trashing of people’s private lives made on Facebook by a handful of s-xist, knuckle-dragging screws still living in the Dark Ages.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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