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There was some pretty big news in the Pharmacy Daily email blast on Wednesday September 9. If it’s still languishing unread in your inbox then please be advised that the Therapeutic Goods Administration has reportedly made an interim decision to class cannabidiol (CBD) as a Schedule 3 drug as of February 1 next year.

Schedule 3 means it’s available at pharmacists’ discretion without a prescription — you know, like certain kinds of painkillers and cold’n’flu tablets, or Ventolin.

And just in case anyone’s about to throw their hands up about how our neighbourhood chemists are about to become the demented piano party from Reefer Madness, note that this still means Australia has some of the planet’s strongest restrictions on access to cannabis-derived medicine. Also, just to be clear, the stuff is not going to get you high since there’ll be little-to-no THC in it. 

In any case, this is a welcome step toward medically-supported sanity — at least, until the obligatory culture war blows up over it. Cue the wild sharing of “think of the children!” memes in three, two…

Swords and outsourcery

Right now there are precious few sectors of the community hiring people, but one of the few places spending more on salaries is the federal government.

And you’d think that this would be a matter of national pride, but given the Coalition’s reflexive horror of being seen to be funding public services, plus the impossible staffing caps imposed on departments by Finance Minister Mathias “everything seems fine, I’ll just grab my coat” Cormann, a lot of that public largesse is concealed behind labour-hire firms that provide staff who look and act like public servants, but don’t have to endure any of those annoying things like “protections” or “accountability”.

For example: thanks to a freedom of information request filed by Geordie Wilson at Michael West Media, we know that the prime minister’s office currently has 190 outsourced roles. What are they? Great question: they’re almost all listed as “contractor”.

However, the Department of Defence has the largest number of non-staff on the national payroll. A staggering 29,000 roles are held by external hires, compared with the 17,000 departmental staff — hence the well-known battlefield motto “no temps left behind”.

And this is a huge deal for two big reasons. First up, it’s inevitably far more expensive to outsource what would otherwise be direct hires, since labour firms take a massive fee on top. Wilson’s article cites one role which had previously cost $64,000 being supplied through an external company for $133,000. That’s a massive saving to the public purse of … um, negative $69,000.

But there’s another danger — or benefit, depending on your point of view — with external staff in that they’re exempt from freedom of information enquiries since they’re not technically part of the public service. 

So that’s very handy if you want give a professional leg-up to your partner without getting raked over the coals, Roman Quaedvlieg-style — or, more seriously, should you want certain things to happen, for which you might not want to take responsibility. 

Apropos of nothing, Home Affairs outsourced 1082 jobs last financial year. 

For whom the TikToks

Speaking of the good people of the Australian public service, they’ve just been issued with new guidelines around their personal social media use.

And while it mentions that obviously all employees have the right to express their opinions as private citizens in a free and open democracy — no question there, perish the very thought — the gist of their subsequent advice amounts to “but also, don’t. Just… just don’t”.

And while one can absolutely understand that the public service very reasonably emphasises the importance of their staff being seen as impartial and professional, the new advice is still… let’s go with “broad”.

Aside from obvious things like not posting hate speech or sharing classified or confidential information there are few specific instructions about what not to do, since the plan still appears to be to wait until someone tweets something salty or publishes an uncontroversial blog post and then call them into a meeting to tell them to delete it or be sacked.

That said, the guidelines do helpfully advise that if a staff member is on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other platform then posting stuff at all is a potential risk to their employment.

The new wrinkle, however, is that now one can also put their job on the line by “liking, following, friending or tagging” something on the socials — and tagging includes being tagged by other people. Oh, and being anonymous is not a defence if someone can work out who you are, or just fancies outing you for vengeance or funsies. 

If, as an APS employee, you’re paralysed with doubt about this advice, you can just run stuff by your manager — who is no doubt delighted to have a new unpaid gig as a content moderator. But as long as you don’t talk about anything that’s being used as a political issue then you’re probably fine. So, well, not COVID-19 or lockdowns, obviously. Or, god, not bushfires. Maybe koalas are… no, that’s probably risky too. Maybe just stick to talking about the weathe- OH GOD THERE’S NOTHING THAT HASN’T BEEN WEAPONISED FOR POLITICAL ENDS THESE DAYS, IS THERE?

Incidentally, social media is already a nightmare for a certain class of APS employee: intelligence staff. And that’s not because public information can get hoovered up by other services (although that absolutely happens), but because it turns out that the obvious solution of not being on the socials — which was until recently policy for agents — is a really good way to announce “hello, I am a spy”.

So maybe all APS staff should see this as the way forward: assiduously curate a plausible online identity, all while cautiously assessing how your every action could be used against you by a hostile foreign power and/or Craig Kelly.

And hey, just have fun with it!