Plaigarism and Australian politics – an ex staffers perspective

November 1, 2008 |

Louise Adler has feisty defence of MUP and a full on attack on Julie Bishop’s plagiarism in today’s Age. Her red hot go at Julie Bishop is well aimed and wholly justified.  But while I think the traffic is mainly one way there is a plenty enough to share around.  As editor Peter van Onselen had a role that extended beyond get contributors and making sure they filed copy by the due date.  Did he not look at the material and check a fact or two?  Did he not make any suggestions about style?  Even if it is not an academic tome his name and that of MUP is attached to the work. It is all very well to lay into Julie Bishop et al and but a bit of intellectual rigor from the publisher is part of the process too.

Where Julie Bishop loses me is her willingness to let a staffer fall on his sword for her.  Her bravery under fire reminds me of Jeremy Thorpe’s wicked paraphrasing of the Bible when describing Harold MacMillan’s loyalty as  “ Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life.”  Pushing a staffer out of the bunker to take a bullet is just hideous.  There is no excuse for a parliamentarian not to take responsibility for every piece of paper that carries that person’s name.

In a past life or two  I was on the political staff of two MPs; Peter Reith, the Federal Sphere, and Tony De Domenico, in the ACT Parliament.

Peter Reith read everything that went out of the office.  He amended quite a bit of my offerings.  Although he prided himself of being a practical can do politician he was interested in ideas and put out a fair volume of policy papers when in opposition.  He could turn a phrase but was more a practical scribe.  It would be hard to imagine  him pilfering works without attribution.  He definitely wouldn’t push the blame onto a staffer.  That is mainly because he was careful enough not to get into that sort of a scrape.  Funnily enough when his star plummeted it was in defending his son over the telephone card affair.  That is often the weak link in any political armor.  Families just can’t be contained or controlled.  Just ask Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton about their respective brothers.

Tony De Domenico, the Deputy Chief Minister, was a horse, nay nag, of an entirely different colour.  He read next to nothing.  For him to amend any document put under his nose…. well I don’t remember him doing it so don’t know what the reaction would have been.  He didn’t worry about which meant his staff had to worry twice as much.  Working for someone like this was far more stressful than a dynamo like Reith.  While Reith would read a speech I drafted he would have read it hours or days before and understood it.  The first time De Domenico read a speech was when it came out of his pocket at the function.  Scary stuff.

Bishop has reached her apogee and is a living and breathing example of the Peter Principle at work.  She doesn’t cut through and being caught plagiarising twice and having staff slicied ad diced to give her a way out is baggage that will weigh her down.  She is damaged goods as a deputy.  Poison as an employer.  It would be mugs game to be on her staff.  Time for Andrew Robb to take over the Deputy Leadership.  A wardrobe change would be in order as would a crash course in deportment.  Once he loses that hang dog look he would be a cracker deputy.  He is a good organiser, the media like him and he can get interested in ideas.  Of course that isn’t going to happen. The West must be sated.

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