Trading away our political rights for the chance to serve the public
Posted on 21:18, June 13th, 2011 by Anita
Over the last few weeks I’ve been considering returning to blogging; I seem to have the energy to do it again, and it can be just plain fun.
A couple of times I’ve been sitting in a bus or cafe with a post half written in my head and remembered the lanyard around my neck or in my handbag. You see, like many of my fellow Wellingtonians I seem to have traded away my rights to political speech. That lanyard has two cards on it, each representing a whole area of news and policy I can’t safely post about.
Worse than that I have to consider whether being politically outspoken on other issues might prevent another organisation giving me an access card in the future. Can I, should I, risk my employment, my mortgage, my home, potentially the financial welfare of colleagues, to speak out politically? I know people who have lost contracts, on-going work, livelihoods even because of their public political speech.
Cameron Slater’s recent antics have only heightened that sense, people I have worked alongside are worried – what would the consequence of them being named as a Labour Party donor be? Would their employer be willing to leave their name on a document going to the Minister? If not, what happens to their career? What happens when their contract next comes up for renewal?
The interesting thing is that when, in the past, I’ve had private sector clients the pressure was never so great. Sure when working at Fonterra I would have been foolish to post accusations of deliberate environmental contamination, but I could happily have posted about the price of milk, and the effects of freight on roads rather than rail. Meat and Wool never seemed particularly worried I’m vegetarian.
Why is it that our public servants, often people who take their jobs out of a genuine belief they can make things better, are so confined in their political activities? And how can we change it, particularly as public servants speaking out against those constraints are probably putting themselves at risk?
In the interests of some disclosure… I am not a public servant, I am a private sector employee who frequently works within Public Service organisations. I have not intention of listing which organisations at which time, or which topics I’m not posting on – that way lies chaos.