A tweet by the government’s Department of Industry, Sciences and Resources (DISER) is a cautionary tale on the overly casual use of social media.
The tweet intended to seek stakeholder feedback on the government’s 2023 Petroleum Acreage Release, asking Twitter users:
“Do you have an Australian offshore location you want #AusGov to consider for oil and gas exploration as part of the 2023 Petroleum Acreage Release? Nominate before 1 September,” the tweet read.
A picture asset featuring an offshore oil exploration vessel was included in the tweet with a simple text overlay that read: “Have your say. 2023 Offshore Petroleum Acreage Release. Nominations close 1 September.”
Unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift. One Twitter user encouraged their followers to ‘show your grandchildren’. Another suggested the upbeat tone was ‘ghoulish and crazy’ given the government’s supposed role as a steward of the environment. Others replied with depictions of natural disasters, from floods to raging bushfires, with the implication that offshore oil and gas exploration has a direct link to the world’s climate crisis.
Media reports followed, with several articles covering the tweet and subsequent outrage in The Mandarin.
What went wrong?
Oil and gas are considered dirty words by many Australians. In fact, climate change action was a strong lever in the election, so the sentiment many Australians have on this subject is already established.
Even if the resource division of the Department of Industry were to argue that this is an unpleasant and necessary reality, they should still be aware of the views of many Australians and the perception of their plan.
Official information calling for feedback on important policies needs to do more than simply tag GeoScience Australia. Government posts on sensitive topics need to demonstrate public servants are giving sufficient discretion to the project.
An expansion of this nature would require technical expertise and significant consultation — ‘throwing it out there’ for a brainstorming opportunity for any man and his dog on Twitter to give their opinion on is to make light of something that is of great consequence.
While we live in a democracy, we do not have the expectation that every decision should have our vote or input. We empower those we believe will make the most informed and beneficial decisions for us by voting for them.
If this was a move that the government wanted to make, they should consider what input would be helpful and also what the general public response would be. Essentially, they needed to ‘read the room’.