I wanted to write a review about James Button’s book Speechless: A year in my father’s business. James Button, a journalist, was approached to be the speechwriter for Kevin Rudd in 2010 and to help provide him with a ‘voice’, with what eventuating is a year in which speeches are written and left unspoken, policies drafted and rewritten in lanugage that doesn’t really say or promise anything, and families that are left behind while the game of politics is played.
I wanted to write about how James, as the son of John Button, a man that has loomed large in Labor politics (and the Geelong Football club) had the enviable position of having been entrenched in politics from an early age, and being able to report as a member of the press. However as a public servant there is the tradition of remaining silent, and impartial, which is somewhat at odds with the journalist’s impetus to report and expose.
However every time I sat down to write the review, I started reflecting on my own experience of being a public servant. The public servant to many is a faceless individual and a cog in the unwieldy machine that is government. And while that is the case for many public servants inhabiting big buildings in central business districts of Melbourne, Sydney and in regional centres, there are also teachers, nurses, social workers, doctors, police officers who are also far more visible to the public.
As a librarian, I have worked in local government-operated libraries, within the State Library of Victoria, and for the last 10 years at the Victorian Parliamentary Library. My roles as a librarian have ranged from being frontline staff, to working behind the scenes, to serving the staff and members of an institution/organisation.
Working where I work, I am bound by a Code of Conduct which form part of my conditions of employment, contravention of which constitutes misconduct. The Code emphasises Responsiveness, Integrity, Impartiality, Accountability, Respect and Leadership.
As a librarian, reference/information requests remain confidential, and the identity of an individual requesting information is never disclosed to a third party. If I were to leave Parliament, I am still bound by confidentiality provisions. We have to be apolitical in our dealings with our users, and not let our own opinions affect the level of service we provide. We are not permitted to make public comment unless authorised to do so, and when making comments in a private capacity, we have to ensure that these comments are not perceived to be official and are our personal views only.
It is often extremely hard to discern what I can and cannot say about work. My friends know where I work, and the general nature of my job. If I am peeved by internal rumblings at work, or with particular individuals, I grumble to Mr BG, and to my work colleagues. Online, I tend to err on the side of caution, and talk about the generalities of my day, libraries in general, books, the kids and nerdy stuff.
Initially I picked up James’ book for the details surrounding his tenure as speechwriter to Kevin Rudd, but what I found more interesting was his experiences in Canberra as a public servant, wrestling with bureaucratese/waffle, and his discussion of the impact of the public service upon Australian society. I appreciated it all the more because he was a single voice amongst the ranks of the speechless.