Gagging public servants on important issues is not on
EDITORIAL: The decision to gag a social worker from talking publicly about her job and her workplace was another nail in the coffin of public service neutrality.
The idea of public servants working for you and me, rather than their political masters, now seems quaint.
Instead, those funded from the public purse must, it seems, do nothing that could besmirch the Government.
An annual church-run social issues meeting in Palmerston North at the weekend took on a political dimension given it's election year, as candidates were invited to turn up and add to the discussion.
They were complemented by an expert panel, members of which would discuss addiction, social isolation and the role of others in supporting recovery.
MidCentral District Health Board mental health worker Jenny Porter was supposed to be on the panel, but at the last minute, the board ordered her not to attend.
"DHBs and employees are required to be politically neutral," said senior health board manager Anne Amoore.
No argument there, and every election public servants are reminded to be especially mindful of that.
Amoore said banning Porter was a "prudent" move, lest she inadvertently say anything that could been seen as taking sides.
If it was not so close to an election, there would be no issue, Amoore said.
Of course, the idea of a neutral public servant attending such an event and promoting or dismissing political parties' policies is not appropriate.
But give Porter some credit. Surely she could have added much value to the forum by discussing her experiences, even if that strayed into the very real pressures she must face.
In her absence, we're left to reach our own negative conclusions about the state of mental health services in the region.
A public servant, and indeed a social worker, should be standing up in front of the public and explaining what's going on.
Instead, the insidious creep of the Government spin machine has silenced her as neutrality has been replaced with fidelity to the rulers of the day.
The present National-led Government isn't alone in extending its tentacles of control.
The previous Labour-led Government was responsible for the "no surprises" policy that broke the back of government department independence.
We'll never know what Porter could have added to the debate over the weekend, but her absence confirms public service neutrality is dead and buried.