John Lloyd

So right-wing ideologue John Lloyd — the man who was placed in charge of enforcing the public service code of conduct as Australian Public Service Commissioner — has been found to have breached the public service code of conduct for, as Crikey first report last October, doing research for his mates at the Institute of Public Affairs on the taxpayer dollar — thereby demonstrating even hardline libertarians don’t mind a bit of taxpayer assistance.

Lloyd’s appointment as APSC by Tony Abbott was always absurd, and Lloyd managed to demonstrate exactly why before he bailed out, perhaps sensing what was coming from the Merit Protection Commissioner. If he hadn’t already quit, his position would now be untenable.

That makes it two for two for this government on industrial relations hardliners: Malcolm Turnbull and Michaelia Cash appointed Nigel Hadgkiss to head the Australian Building and Construction Commission, when they knew he was under investigation for breaking industrial relations laws, only for him to be forced to quit when he was convicted of same. And John Lloyd, former heard of the ABCC, breached the very code of conduct he was supposed to oversee.

Nice work from a government that regularly slams unions for failing to observe the rule of law.

But standard-issue hypocrisy and the perils of appointing your mates aside, it’s telling that Lloyd gets no sanction or even comment from the government for his breach. Lloyd gets to waltz out with a few talking points from the far-right script about “do-gooders”, “virtue-signalling” and “political correctness; presumably there some is software (RightWrite?) that churns this stuff out mechanically for right-wingers to utter — PC gone mad, safe spaces, feminazis, snowflakes, blah blah — so they don’t have to type it out for each speech. But while Lloyd was departing with nary a cross word, the government was going to the High Court over the case of another public servant whom the government alleges breached the APS code of conduct. 

Michaela Banerji was a Department of Immigration public servant dismissed in 2013 over anonymous tweets she made in 2012 about asylum seeker policy (remember, that was Labor’s asylum seeker policy then). The Administrative Appeals Tribunal — including former Liberal senator and ACT chief minister Gary Humphries — eventually found her dismissal “impermissibly trespassed upon her implied freedom of political communication” and that the APS code of conduct requirements couldn’t apply to anonymous comments. This, of course, is at odds with the draconian interpretation of the APS code of conduct promulgated by Lloyd (the IPA is normally a big fan of free speech, but not for public servants who might use it to criticise governments).

Last month Attorney-General Christian Porter sent the case to the High Court. That is, so enraged is the government at the prospect of public servants anonymously bagging it that they’re going to the High Court to try to stop it, blowing wads of taxpayer money to do so. 

Then again we know how thin-skinned and glass-jawed the Turnbull government is. How it breached the privacy of a woman who’d dared to criticise its robo-debt scandal to arrange a public attack on her. How it’s prosecuting Witness K and Bernard Collaery for revealing the illegal behaviour of ASIS ordered by the Howard government. How it sicced the Federal Police onto Labor staffers because whistleblowers embarrassed the NBN. How Greg Hunt tried to bully critics of My Health Record. How it bombards the ABC with vexatious complaints about journalists, cuts its funding and subjects it to constant review.

But when it comes to its mates, all that malicious rigour in going hard after those perceived to have stepped out of line vanishes. NBN chair Ziggy Switkowski egregiously breached the caretaker convention during the 2016 election campaign but had no sanction from the government. John Lloyd breaches the very code he’s supposed to be the principal guardian of, and faces no sanction. Michaelia Cash continues as a minister despite the referral of her staff to the DPP. National security leaks are fine when they target Labor figures like Sam Dastyari.

One rule of law for them, another one for us.