Ministerial and Agency Websites

Guidelines for Ministerial and Agency Websites

The Australian Public Service (APS) must maintain its impartial, apolitical, professional nature while maintaining websites. It is important that agencies consider carefully the content of their websites and those they maintain on behalf of their ministers.

There are three categories of websites that relate to this issue:

  • agency websites
  • ministerial websites maintained by an agency (either directly or through a contractor)
  • personal ministerial websites that contain material on a minister’s party political activities or views on issues not related to his or her ministerial role.

There is a range of matters to consider under this heading and these guidelines are not intended to be prescriptive. Agencies will need to exercise their own judgement in some circumstances.

Why should I?

Australian Government departments and agencies are guided by the APS Values, which are set out in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999. The APS Values require APS agencies to provide high quality, professional support to the government but at the same time to do so on a basis that is free from political bias and political influence.

APS employees and Agency Heads also have defined 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.

Staff with responsibility for ministerial and agency website development and maintenance should undertake their duties with appropriate regard for the requirement to ensure that public resources are used efficiently, effectively and ethically.

What should I do?

Agencies need to determine the arrangements for maintenance of a ministerial website. For example:

  • 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 department can pay a contractor to provide the service of loading material onto the ministerial website.

There needs to be a clear distinction between an agency website and a ministerial website. This can be achieved through simple means like look-and-feel changes or differing domain names. This does not mean that entirely separate content must be placed on each site. The 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. Links to such content between agency and ministerial websites are also acceptable.

As an example, a ministerial media release containing a travel advisory warning (normally released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) would reasonably be included in with other department-issued travel advisories. In most circumstances, however, ministerial media releases and speeches would be published on the ministerial site only.

Distinction between agency-funded websites and personal or party political websites

Agency-funded websites should not contain information about a minister’s activities or views that have no relationship to the minister’s official duties as such (e.g. favourite books or discussion of unrelated activities in their electorate). Ministers can establish personal websites at their own expense for such purposes.

Agency-funded websites should 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 website 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.

If agency staff are concerned about material placed (or proposed to be placed) on an agency-funded website, they should raise those concerns promptly with their minister’s office.

Caretaker Conventions

During the caretaker period preceding an election, departments and agencies should ensure that their websites and the management of these websites are consistent with the principles set out in the Guidance on Caretaker Conventions.

Guidance on Caretaker Conventions includes guidance on:

  • ensuring that websites are not used to support any particular political party
  • existing materials that may be retained on websites and materials that may be added
  • linking from websites
  • maintenance of ministerial websites during caretaker periods.

If further advice is required in relation to particular issues that arise during the caretaker period, departments and agencies should contact the Government Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on (02) 6271 5399.

Government search engine

A comprehensive whole-of-government search service is available on australia.gov.au and is also available for agencies to reuse on their websites.

Ministerial websites managed by agencies are hosted in the .gov.au domain and are considered to be within the government online sphere. Material on these websites will be collected and indexed for searching by the australia.gov.au search engine, as will senators’ and members’ personal pages on the Parliament of Australia website.

Since ministers’ personal websites are not hosted in the .gov.au domain, they fall outside the government online sphere. The australia.gov.au search engine does not collect material on these websites.

How do I?

URLs and domain names

There are three ways to distinguish a ministerial website from an agency website by its URL:

In nearly all cases, ministerial websites will be located in the .gov.au domain name space. 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. Note that, 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.

Branding

The primary means of achieving the necessary distinction between agency and ministerial websites is the use of different livery on each site. The appearance of agency media releases and speeches should be clearly distinct from that of 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 site, care should be taken to not apply agency branding to ministerial content. One good example of managing this transition is the Media Centre for the Department the Environment: the portfolio’s ministers are introduced on a page that is agency-branded, but navigating to the content for each individual minister sees the pages change to a distinct ministerial livery.

For further branding information, please see the Branding page.

Last Reviewed: 2014-03-11

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Contacts

  • Web Advice & Policy Team
    Contact us
  • Regarding the APS Values:
    Ethics Advisory Service
    Australian Public Service Commission
    Tel: (02) 6202 3737
    ethics@apsc.gov.au
  • Regarding the Guidance on Caretaker Conventions:
    Government Division
    Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
    Tel: (02) 6271 5399