Monday, October 27, 2008

In Her Own Words…

It’s normal practice for politicians to read speeches which have been prepared by others. It’s just part of the process of making them look as clever as possible. There is a machine working twenty four hours a day to support politicians in their role as representatives of the people, guiding every step they take and almost every word they speak. It would be impossible to do the job without a cavalcade of advisers, speech writers, researchers and so on. While some of the support staff actually do help a Member of Parliament provide effective representation for their constituents, many of them are devoted to shaping and spinning the political message and the public image of both the Member and the Party.

Given that so many people are working so hard to support high level politicians, you should be able to expect that the result would be a high standard of performance and presentation. You should be able to expect well crafted speeches, and well thought out responses to the issues of the day. You should be able to expect that words attributed to the politician in question are at least original thoughts, even if they are not necessarily the politician’s own words. But apparently not.

Federal Shadow Treasurer and Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has been caught out in a plagiarism controversy again. The first time, the excuse was that a speech was hastily constructed by staff from another office shortly after her appointment to the Treasury portfolio. The lack of time and the chaos of change led to a mistake made by an unnamed speechwriter, who failed to attribute parts of the speech to the Wall Street Journal where they had originally been published. It was a disappointing and embarrassing mistake, and in isolation might be understandable in the rush of taking on a new portfolio. Even so, there is no justification for stealing another writer’s work .

The trouble is that there is a new episode of apparent plagiarism. An essay purporting to be written by Julie Bishop has been prepared for inclusion in a book to be published by Melbourne University Press. In fact it has been written by Julie Bishop’s chief of staff, Murray Hansen. Again, whole sentences, along with complete phrases have been copied almost word for word from another source, in this case a speech given by a New Zealand businessman almost ten years ago. Again it is claimed that a mistake has been made, and the error is not Julie Bishop’s personal error. But that’s just not good enough.

This isn’t just a speech, it is a published work. We are entitled to expect the words that appear in Julie Bishop’s name should be her own. At least with a prepared speech, she must actually say the words in public, even if they have been written for her. But a published essay is a different matter. If it has her name on it, it should be her work. Anything else is fraudulent. Yes, I know that ghost writers are used all the time, but if I buy the book because I’m interested in Julie Bishop’s views on labour market reform, I want to read Julie Bishop’s views, not Murray Hansen’s.

Incidentally, I wrote this editorial myself, so if you don’t like it for any reason, at least you know who to blame.

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