Personally, I’m not a fan of anonymous blogging because I’m a fan of transparency. But The Australian newspaper recently outed “Grogs Gamut,” a regular blogger who has contributed to the public debate and expressed, at times, political preferences. It did so because this particular blogger had actually begun to have impact. Also, this particular blogger worked for the Department of Environment and actually defended Peter Garrett. Why? For the simple reason that the insulation scandal was not of his making and he was a scapegoat. This is fairly amusing because one would have thought that anonymity may have been sought in order to be able to criticise your employer not to defend them! Surely it is hard to profit of potential pandering to one’s employer if you do it anonymously. It’s not like I am going to benefit from sending a secret rumour that MBS’s Dean is the best we have ever had — she is, by the way — instead, if I’m going to do that I may as well be open about it even if that diminishes the force of my opinion.
Nonetheless, anonymity was sought; presumably, in part, because the system of incentives and internal organisation of the Australian Public Service required it. But that is the problem. Why should public servants be required to be silent any more than I may be required to do so? Last time I looked I work for an organisation that is substantively owned by a public institution. Yet no one has ever suggested that I not blog on something because of that. Instead, I have to make judgments and from time to time have to take flack for potentially holding opinions that may reflect the fact that I am so employed. There is no true independent soul out there. I try to be independent but I don’t live in a vacuum. I have a consulting business as well that pays the bills and so there are some things I don’t blog about as a result.
So what will the APS do here? Here is what Grog is concerned about:
And so that’s it. The ‘big’ secret is now out. Is this the end for me as a blogger and as a public servant? I hope not. I like my job, do it diligently, do it well (in my opinion), and I don’t believe I have contravened the APS code of conduct – if I did I wouldn’t have started the blog in the first place. I did not stay anonymous because I thought I was doing anything wrong, just that I seriously did not think it mattered.
But if to keep doing my job means I have to stop blogging and tweeting, well then I’ll do that; this is just a hobby after all. I guess I’ll have to try my hand at fiction. I would be sad if it comes to that, but that is life.
I think it would be tragic. Public servants should have the authority to openly state opinions but also be responsible for those they state. If you want to publicly voice opinions that will cause you trouble at work, you have to understand the consequences. But preemptively silencing voices because they might do that is surely not warranted. I know of many in the private sector who are so silenced and it is a shame because their voice may matter.
Let’s not make it a condition of public service in one domain that you have to forgo all other service to the public.