Another high pro­file pub­lic offi­cial has fallen by the way­side with the res­ig­na­tion over the week­end of the US State Department’s PJ Crow­ley for mak­ing pub­lic, on-​​the-​​record com­ments on his views with respect to the deten­tion of PFC Bradley Man­ning. When you look at this in the con­text of the res­ig­na­tion of Gen­eral Stan­ley McChrys­tal for express­ing views about the Obama admin­is­tra­tion in his now-​​famous Rolling Stone pro­file, there’s an unfor­tu­nate con­clu­sion that might be drawn.

The noises being made about open gov­ern­ment and the right for pub­lic ser­vants to express opin­ions seems to have an “only if we like it” caveat.

This begs the ques­tion, do our democ­ra­cies, even in a time of a strongly stated sup­port for open gov­ern­ment and Gov­ern­ment 2.0, have some­thing of a glass jaw when it comes to criticism?

While for any pub­lic ser­vant, the expres­sion of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional views needs to be bal­anced against those com­ments’ capac­ity to bring dis­re­pute to the gov­ern­ments they serve, surely mod­ern democ­ra­cies ought to be robust and resilient enough to with­stand uncom­fort­able and diver­gent views from within with­out the knee-​​jerk “jump or be pushed” that seems to have taken place in these cases.

As a coun­ter­point, it was good to see Greg Jeri­cho’s depart­ment here in Aus­tralia choose to sup­port him when The Aus­tralian news­pa­per ran its lit­tle vendetta against him for his insight­ful, and crit­i­cal polit­i­cal blog­ging and insight into media prac­tices dur­ing elec­tions. Per­haps the glass-​​jawedness has geo­graph­i­cal limits?

Here in Aus­tralia, we’re yet to see a high-​​ranking pub­lic ser­vant at a level equiv­a­lent to Crow­ley (say, APS Deputy Sec­re­tary) or McChrys­tal, espe­cially one with an active social media pro­file like Crow­ley, express a view counter to the gov­ern­ment of the day. So, I’m in no posi­tion to spec­u­late on what might hap­pen. I sus­pect they are out there on a num­ber of issues. It will be inter­est­ing to see what hap­pens when the inevitable day comes.

Why shouldn’t pub­lic offi­cials be able to express strong and some­times uncom­fort­able views about the poli­cies and prac­tices of the gov­ern­ments they serve? (Notwith­stand­ing the ques­tion of pro­fes­sional con­duct and appro­pri­ate­ness or oth­er­wise of com­ment­ing within your own port­fo­lio. I per­son­ally feel the rules in Aus­tralia on this are too restric­tive, but I do under­stand why they exist)

What ever hap­pened to “frank and fear­less” advice? (I have strong views on this that I won’t go into here)