The challenge that Government 2.0 faces to become a reality became obvious this week in Senate Estimates, as Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi took Australian Government Information Management Office first assistant secretary John Sheridan to task for letting Finance Department staff loose on Twitter.
"What is the reason for having access to Twitter, for example, for department employees?" Bernardi said.
The issue would have been fresh in Bernadi's mind following the recent outing of prominent political blogger and avid Twitter user Grog's Gamut as federal public servant Greg Jericho. He had been making political comments on his Twitter account, without mentioning that he was a Department of the Environment, Heritage and the Arts employee.
There were questions about whether or not he should have been making these comments, given his employment.
But I don't see why government employees shouldn't be able to air their views on Twitter, as long as there is a disclaimer on their account. They are, after all, people too. If they're writing anonymously anyway, as was the case with Grog's Gamut, why should anyone care, really?
When grilled about which employees were allowed to use Twitter, Sheridan referred to the social media policy, then explained in which circumstances employees would need permission to have an account.
"Someone could use it in their personal capacity, in a professional capacity or in an official capacity. If they were using it in an official capacity, they would expect to have been authorised to do so," he added.
Bernardi then moved onto another specific Twitter user who was a senior employee within the department, reading out tweets such as "Who'd have thunk it could happen?", "I'm wrapping up TF meeting now" and "If you want to see some passionate debate in the TF, talk copyright and licensing".
Bernardi wasn't sure if this tweeting, obviously during work hours, was appropriate. But, again, I don't see the problem.
To use Finance Department Secretary David Tune's words at the estimates hearing:
"A TF meeting? I do not know what it is, but it does not look like it is political to me."
Even if we did know what TF was, we probably wouldn't care.
Where does the opinion come from in government that everything they do is so secret and important and not meant for plebs? I admit, there are some things that should be kept under wraps and some official accounts should be kept free of political statements, but most government employees should be allowed to engage with the community, for indeed, how else can they govern?
Bernardi's mindset is exactly what we need to work against for Government 2.0 to work.
Tune summed it up nicely for me:
Sure, you are putting a certain amount of trust in your employees when you allow this sort of thing, and the guidelines there are meant to be the behaviours that people should follow. As a secretary I cannot guarantee that in 100 per cent of cases that is being done appropriately. We monitor the situation. We try and ensure that we get people to behave appropriately. We give them incentives to do so by providing certain freedoms, and there is an element of trust that goes on.
To me, allowing employees this freedom is an effort to build an online community to replace the physical communities which can all too often have been ripped apart. We need to allow this trust to bloom into a feeling of collaboration and togetherness, so we can work together to policies that fit the view of the many, not the few.
And, on the trust aspect, if we can't trust another, we've failed as a society anyway. Haven't we?