Before you begin
What is caretaker mode?
Caretaker mode starts when the legislative assembly expires or is dissolved, usually before an election. It ends when the election result is clear or when a new government takes office.
During caretaker mode specific restrictions and practices apply to creating and distributing content. Caretaker mode will affect your department and agency’s day-to-day tasks, such as communicating to the media and publishing digital content.
Why manage content for a caretaker or new government?
Create a neutral environment
An election’s special circumstances mean the Victorian Public Service (VPS) must work with extra diligence to provide an apolitical, even-handed approach.
Reduce public distractions
Managing online content appropriately is important to prevent the release of any contentious digital content that will distract from the election’s real issues.
What does the Victorian Government recommend?
During caretaker mode, your department’s or agency’s digital services should avoid distributing digital material if it promotes:
- party political content
- the government’s or a minister’s achievements
- government policies or initiatives
Note: If you are another kind of organisation, for example, a statutory authority, check with your department to make sure what approach to use.
At the start of the caretaker period, you should review:
- everything you publish and distribute digitally
- any new advertising and information campaigns you plan to run
What standards must be met?
VPSC Code of Conduct for Employees
The VPSC Code of Conduct for Employees (Section 2.2, Remaining Apolitical) outlines how to go about publishing political material (at any time, not just during the caretaker period), and issues of misconduct.
Manage public records
The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) (under Section 12 of the Public Records Act 1973) sets the standards for managing the public records your department or agency create. Always check with your department’s or agency’s records or information management specialist first for the approach to compliance.
Getting it approved
If you receive a request to publish digital content which you think is of a political nature, escalate the request to your manager. They'll be able to provide advice on the appropriate action.
Managing existing content
What to check for
In most cases, your agency can leave what it’s already published before the caretaker period began. If it was apolitical enough to publish in the first place then it should be fine to leave.
Check the wording of any icons and links to other websites. Make sure they don’t appear to promote government policy.
What you can add
You can add any portfolio-related announcements to existing content, but only if it’s normal practice – your agency needs to judge what you consider ‘portfolio-related.’
This means you can’t add election promises but you can add, for example, a ministerial media release with a public health warning.
Existing social media accounts
When the caretaker period starts (and perhaps every so often), politely remind your audience to keep their comments respectful.
Adding new content
Ministerial website, Facebook and Twitter content
Ministerial digital content is dedicated to a minister. It’s distinct from an agency or departmental site. Agency or departmental staff are unlikely to ever work with (that is publish, republish, for example, retweet) digital ministerial content.
When adding new ministerial content during caretaker mode, ministerial staff should only add material on existing policy, or purely factual material to your Ministerial website or other digital channel. You should not add:
- material on future policies'
- material on election commitments
- how-to-vote material
- media releases and speeches that criticise opponents, promote the government or pursue election issues
Department and agency website, Facebook and Twitter content
During the caretaker period (and in fact at any time) it’s inappropriate for your agency and department’s staff to add any content other than apolitical content to an agency website, Facebook page or Twitter feed.
You should escalate any requests you think might be inappropriate. This includes any content which is political in nature, or ministerial content.
Escalating a request to publish ministerial content
If you receive a request to publish content that seems inappropriate (promotes political content) you should:
- escalate to your manager first
- if necessary, escalate to the Strategic Communications group in your department or agency
- if the issue still isn’t resolved, your escalation point is the Executive Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement, at the Department of Premier and Cabinet
Managing upcoming digital advertising campaigns
What is acceptable digital advertising?
Digital advertising is acceptable as long as it remains apolitical. Acceptable advertising or information campaigns are campaigns that:
- give necessary public information. For example, a Transport Accident Commission (TAC) advertisement which promotes public safety would be acceptable
- promote Victoria as a tourist destination but doesn’t feature ministers or political content
- advertise essential operational information. This includes employment advertisements as long as they don’t feature Ministers or promote Government policies
- distributes electronic material. For example, it is acceptable to respond to an agency’s request for a public information campaign on fire safety.
Managing unacceptable digital advertising
It is important to consider whether your scheduled advertising could be interpreted as political. What you’d normally consider as appropriate and uncontroversial, others may legitimately see as party political.
Any content you are unsure about should be deferred. Outwardly political advertising should be withdrawn, and cancelled if it has already been booked.
If you plan to run a campaign to promote a government policy or minister (or both), it will become an especially sensitive activity and should be escalated.
Adding special messages for caretaker government
There may be a need to add temporary or special messages to your website or social media accounts during caretaker period.
Wording special messages
Insert this text:
'As the Victorian state election will be held on [Saturday, and date] the Victorian Government has assumed a caretaker role from [insert day and date]. During the caretaker period, content will only be added to this website or digital channel in accordance with caretaker conventions.’
Formatting special messages
We no longer use pop-ups for temporary messages as they seriously degrade your search rankings. They’ve also caused major browser and device related issues. Simple text messages on a shaded box are a simpler, less risky option if your Content Management System (CMS) allows this.
Managing content for a new government
Policy related content
For a new government it’s acceptable to publish digital content about a policy or initiative. Once the new government is known, you’ll need to add a new message:
'Victoria has a new State Government, so the content on this website may change’ to indicate that these updates are expected.
Review your digital presence
Review each digital presence you maintain, fund, host or are responsible for. It’s inappropriate for your agency to continue to fund, maintain or host specific purpose websites or other digital channels, if the policy, program, initiative or event may be contentious after a new government takes power.
You may need to de-activate (unpublish) and change the settings on your content management system (CMS) make your now out-of-date digital content inaccessible to new searches. When you deactivate digital content remember it's important to archive it.
Archiving digital content
During the caretaker period or with a new government, your department or agency may need to permanently unpublish digital content. The digital content’s owner or manager does this work. It's important to keep records of any content so information is not lost.
Some departments may have a register of their digital presences (separate from, or incorporated in the Department's Information Asset register), in which case you’ll need to update this as well.
This How-to guide assumes your agency and its Records Management Unit have workable procedures for making sure content is intelligible and usable for future FOI requests when unpublishing content or even decommissioning entire websites or other digital assets. If not, the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) discusses archiving digital records, including social media records and websites in depth.
You can also refer to the how-to guide:
Related how-to guides
Reviewed 26 June 2019