Since 2014, Department of Parliamentary services employee, Geoff Wade has been given free rein to harass numerous individuals and run political commentary on Twitter. While other government departments have dismissed employees for political comments on social media, DPS says its concern is for staff “privacy”.
The DPS has been in the news following reports that it withheld its security incident report into the Brittany Higgins case from the Australian Federal Police, despite multiple requests it was only provided after the police escalated inquiries. It seems the DPS has form in wanting to bury bad news.
19 February 2021 | Marcus Reubenstein
Last year public servant Josh Krook wrote a blog post in which he argued COVID-19 benefitted big tech because forced social isolation would drive people to online platforms. He worked for the Commonwealth Industry Department which deals extensively with tech companies; he was fired because he refused to delete the post.
That incident followed a 2019 High Court ruling (Comcare v Banerji) that effectively said public servants could be sacked for comments they make on social media. Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji was dismissed for a series of Tweets, among other things, that were critical of Australia’s treatment of refugees. Banerji made 9,000 posts, mostly sent from her personal device outside of work hours.
Then there is the case of Geoffrey Philip Wade, employed as a researcher in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library. With 13,300 followers, he is one of Australia’s most prolific anti-China Twitter users, a great number of his 42,000 posts appear to have been sent from inside Parliament House.
Often during his “working day” he will send out Tweets every five or 10 minutes, however, it seems Wade has been granted a great deal more latitude than Krook and Banerji.
It is not uncommon for him to research individuals across websites, in both English and Chinese, and then post threads of twenty or more weblinks and screenshots personally targeting them. Almost always with strong suggestions of gross impropriety but falling just short of defamatory accusations.
In a number of cases those ‘contrary views’ he attacks reflect official government policy. A large number of his posts, questioning government policies and decisions, feature images of state and federal politicians.
DPS refuses to answer questions
An email request for a copy of its social media policy was sent to the Department of Parliamentary Services on February 3rd. Shortly after one of the department’s media advisers telephoned wanting to know what the request was in relation to?
After being told this reporter was investigating whether Geoff Wade was in breach of social media policy, the media representative advised they were “unaware” of Wade’s online activity and asked for “time to investigate”.
Specific examples of Wade’s posts were provided to the Department, including attacks on a Queensland Police initiative presided over by that state’s then Police Commissioner; a university vice chancellor; a prominent Chinese-Australian businessman; accusing a senior journalist of plagiarism; and accusing the Group of Eight universities of working in direct collaboration with a political arm of the Chinese Communist Party.
In a response sent on February 11th, the Department refused to answer whether any of Wade’s social media posts ignored the Parliamentary Library’s published directive that its staff must act with “integrity”.
Different freedoms for different public servants
Human rights advocate Greg Barns SC, of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, says, “The contrast between the inaction of the Commonwealth in relation to Wade and the brutal punishment of Michaela Banerji is telling. It shows there is clear inconsistency of the rights of public servants in relation to freedom of speech.”
The High Court ruled Banerji’s dismissal was warranted because she had breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct. That code has guidelines stipulating public servants must act impartially and are prohibited from engaging in any forms of “harassment”.
The Parliamentary Service Act (1999) governs the functions of the Parliamentary Library, with staff expected to conduct themselves with “integrity” and “having regard to the independence of Parliament from the Executive Government of the Commonwealth”.
In justifying its refusal answer questions about Wade’s apparent social harassment, a DPS spokesperson cited “privacy considerations”.
A 2017 survey commissioned by Wade’s boss, Parliamentary Librarian Dianne Heriot, suggested researchers hardly have time to sit around and post on social media. One in five staff members of parliamentary committees, which provide advice on new legislation, were not satisfied with library services citing issues with “quality of research services and problems with its timeliness.”
Wade on Queensland Police Radar
On February 1st this year Wade posted a series of Tweets alleging participants at a Queensland Police Cultural Relations event had indirect links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Wade posted a photograph of then Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, with five Chinese-Australian Queensland Police liaison officers (PLOs), Tweeting they “are familiar to us”.
Queensland Police was not impressed, a spokesperson saying its Chinese liaison officers play a “role that is integral to keeping Queensland communities safe… PLOs are bound by the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service as are all members of the Queensland Police Service.” There was no suggestion the members singled out by Wade had acted with impropriety.
The spokesperson added, “Police Officers remain private citizens and have the power to sue persons, in their private capacity, for defamation in accordance with the Defamation Act 2005 (Qld).”
Party political promotion
One of the main reasons public servant Michaela Banerji was fired was because her Tweets were considered political partisan, and therefore an egregious breach of the Public Service Commission Code of Conduct. Similarly, Wade, as a public servant, is expected to adhere to the same code of conduct.
In 2016, whilst Tony Abbott was still in parliament, Wade Retweeted a comment that the former prime minister was guilty of “ideological madness”. More recently he has promoted the political activities of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and the comments of its vehemently anti-China co-founder West Australian Liberal Andrew Hastie.
In May 2020, Wade posted a link promoting an anti-China website run by controversial Queensland LNP Member George Christensen, about whom former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote, “[he] had an unusually complex online presence and had been spending substantial sums in Manila bars and nightclubs as well as making many small payments to women there.”
Former Labor MP, Michael Danby, regarded as one of the most anti-China politicians within ALP ranks, made special mention of Wade in his valedictory speech upon his retirement in 2019. Wade subsequently Tweeted a number of Danby’s anti-China comments on right wing media outlets Sky News, The Spectator and in Murdoch press.
The ASPI connection
Wade’s employment as a notionally impartial public servant has proved no impediment when it comes to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and its anti-China rhetoric. He has been a regular contributor to its periodical magazine The Strategist, writing a dozen articles all highly critical of China. Nowhere is there any disclosure of Wade’s employment as a public servant.
During the time Wade was producing research for ASPI, Canberra MP, Gai Brodtmann was the Co-Chair of the committee which has oversight for the Parliamentary Library. She now sits on the ASPI council.
He has Tweeted dozens of times both praising ASPI and attacking its critics; in the last two years he has Tweeted 159 posts supporting ASPI’s lead China researcher Alex Joske.
Media gags don’t apply
Though DPS says its staff are prohibited from speaking to journalists “without approval”, in August 2016 an internal parliamentary research paper he wrote attacking China made its way into an “exclusive” feature in the Australian Financial Review.
The DPS will not disclose the dates of his employment but public records show he was working in the library at least as early as May 2014. Eight weeks later Wade set up his Twitter account.
In 2016 he gave a twenty-minute interview to Sydney radio station 2GB, criticizing Chinese investment in Australia. He’s also been quoted a number of times across ABC, Fairfax and Murdoch publications.
Wade’s “alarmist nonsense”
In February 2016 Wade lodged a public submission to a Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry without disclosing he had been employed in the parliamentary library. One of his assertions was that the Chinese Navy was poised to establish a military base in Australia following the lease of the Darwin Port to a Chinese company.
At the public hearing of the same inquiry, Defence Department chief, Dennis Richardson told the senate:
In 2015 the chief of the ADF, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, dismissed the theory, advanced by Wade and ASPI, that the Chinese could potentially ‘lock up’ Darwin Port.
Binskin told a Senate committee, ‘If [ship] movements are the issue, I can sit at the fish and chip shop on the wharf at the moment in Darwin and watch ships come and go, regardless of who owns it’.
Tenuous links to ANU
In 1978 Wade graduated from ANU with a degree in Asian Studies. In November 2015 he was given a 12-month appointment as a visiting fellow at the ANU. According to a spokesperson, “ANU chose not to reappoint Geoff Wade as a visiting fellow when his 12-month term expired in 2016.” Furthermore:
Despite this, Wade has been quoted numerous times in media interviews as “visiting fellow” at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy. He includes an ANU email address as a contact on his Twitter profile and shares his research using a private email address provided by the university’s alumni association.
Since being dropped by ANU, he has attacked three senior academics at the Crawford School, in one instance posting the personal email address and direct phone number of one of ANU’s most distinguished professors.
He has sent out 130 Tweets relating to the ANU, many of them suggesting academic staff have nefarious indirect links to the Chinese Communist Party.
“Comrade (韦杰夫) Wade” and his communist past
Interestingly, while Wade has a proclivity for linking people to the Chinese Communist Party, he has a past littered with numerous links to communist China.
While working with Chinese communist party aligned institutions, he even gave himself a Chinese name 韦杰夫 (Wéijiéfū).
A profile of Wade from the Center for Global Asia reveals he conducted research at NYU Shanghai, which is jointly operated by the Chinese Communist Party-controlled East China Normal University. According to an online biography, he has also undertaken studies at institutions in Beijing and Nanjing, which presumably also have direct links to the Communist Party.