The interest rate gaffe one could dismiss. It was embarrassing for Julie Bishop, having only been in the job eight hours, and anyway it won’t be too long before Kevin Rudd or Wayne Swan are caught out on some economic factoid. These things invariably come round to bite people on the backside when they get too cute about it.
But then there was the Wall St Journal plagiarism, which again looked a tad embarrassing, but really, who cares, and doesn’t the Treasurer’s office have anything better to do than google opposition speeches? There’s only a global financial meltdown — so we’re told — happening.
Anthony Albanese, however, is not one to let the trivia of the issues get in the way of a hot-blooded pursuit. What looked merely embarrassing for Bishop took a more nasty turn when Albanese — who likes to circulate Hansard of his finer Parliamentary moments to a grateful Press Gallery — rose in Parliament first thing this morning. He asked the Speaker to look into the suggestion that Bishop had misled the House in her explanation of how she ended up using material from the WSJ and then got Hansard to change her explanation so that it read differently. Albanese reckons Bishop said:
In my speech I was referring to the United States’ plans. In fact, the words I used were the technical explanation from the US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, which have been published widely.
But then changed it to:
In my speech I was referring to the United States’ plans, and, in fact, the words I used were a technical explanation of US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s plan, which have been published widely.
Yes it took me a couple of reads to see the crucial preposition but Albanese’s sort of got a point.
Politicians, and even Parliamentary inquiry witnesses, frequently change Hansard (or “amend” it — that sounds much better), not as an attempt to mislead anyone but as the Parliamentary equivalent of “we’ll fix it in post-production.” That’s not to say both sides don’t watch carefully to check who is changing what.
Mind you, given the tiny numbers of people allowed the Opposition following the 30% reduction in ministerial staffing introduced by Rudd, it’s a lot easier for the Government than for the Opposition to go hunting for gotchas. But before feeling any sympathy for Bishop, remember what the Howard Government would’ve done with something like this. They would’ve got two or three Question Times out of it.
Despite the trivial nature of all this, it has succeeded in taking some of the gloss of the new Turnbull shadow ministry already, and preventing the pensions issue from getting any clear space to trouble Government ranks. Bishop will need to avoid further slip-ups at all costs for a while to come. Even the suggestion of incompetence will be enough to put her under plenty of pressure, when it’s Wayne Swan who should be in the spotlight.