Australian Public Service (APS) values say that agencies must provide high-quality, professional support to the government on the basis that support is free from political bias and political influence. This includes maintaining the APS’s impartial, apolitical and professional nature while maintaining websites.
Legislative requirement: APS employees and agency heads have related responsibilities for the control and management of public property and the expenditure of public funds, as set out in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
Agency and ministerial websites
There are 3 types of website that Australian Government agencies need to be aware of:
- agency sites
- ministerial sites maintained by an agency (either directly or through a contractor)
- personal ministerial sites that contain material on a minister’s party political activities or views on issues not related to his or her ministerial role
There must clear distinction between an agency site, a minister’s portfolio site and a minister’s personal or electoral site.
This can be achieved through simple means, such as look-and-feel changes or different domain names.
Agency-funded sites must:
- not contain information about a minister’s activities or views that have no relationship to the minister’s official duties. Examples include the minister’s favourite books or a discussion of unrelated activities in their electorate. Ministers can set up personal websites at their own expense for things like this.
- not contain material of a party political nature, although individual judgement will be required. For example, a minister’s explanation and defence of government policy might draw distinctions between government and opposition policies. Such material may be placed on a ministerial site funded by an agency. However, material that relates solely to party political issues or that could be categorised as ‘how to vote’ material may not be placed on an agency-funded site.
- comply with additional requirements during the caretaker period
Sometimes agency and ministerial content may need to appear on both types of site. A minister might choose to put material produced by the agency on his or her website and there will be times when it will be appropriate for a ministerial media release to be placed on an agency website.
For example, a ministerial media release containing a travel advisory warning would reasonably be included with other Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-issued travel advisories. Links to content between agency and ministerial sites are also acceptable.
Maintaining ministerial sites
Agencies need to decide how to maintain ministerial sites.
- the minister’s office can itself place material on the ministerial website, with the agency only responsible for meeting the cost of the website
- the agency can place material on the ministerial website at the request of the minister’s office, not usually on a case-by-case basis but in line with agreements reached about various categories of documents
- the agency can pay a contractor to provide the service of loading material onto the ministerial website
If agency staff are concerned about material placed (or proposed to be placed) on an agency-funded website, raise those concerns with the minister’s office.
The main way to show the difference between agency and ministerial websites is through branding. For example, agency media releases and speeches should look different to ministerial media releases and speeches.
Agency logos should not appear on ministerial websites. If a ministerial website exists as a sub-domain or directory of an agency website, do not use agency branding on the ministerial content.
Domain name restrictions
There are 3 ways to distinguish a ministerial website from an agency website by its URL:
- separate domain name using the minister’s portfolio title, for example, pm.gov.au
- sub-domain of an agency domain name, for example, minister.agency.gov.au
- directory within an agency website, for example, agency.gov.au/minister/name/index.html
In nearly all cases, ministerial websites will use a gov.au domain name. There is a strong preference for agency-sponsored websites to have a gov.au domain name, but even where a minister prefers an alternative domain name, these guidelines still apply.
In accordance with gov.au domain name policies, a minister’s name cannot be used in a gov.au domain name but there is no restriction on using the minister’s name as part of a sub-domain or directory. For example:
- ministersname.gov.au is not permitted
- agency.gov.au/ministersname is permitted
- ministersname.department.gov.au is permitted
Ministerial websites managed by agencies are hosted in the gov.au domain and are considered to be within the government online sphere.
Ministers’ personal websites do not relate to the official business of government and therefore are not included in the gov.au domain or referenced via australia.gov.au. However, all members and senators personal pages are listed on the Parliament of Australia website.