To be pinged once for plagiarism might be a misfortune; twice looks like carelessness.
Murray Hansen works for Julie Bishop. Hansen is — or, at least in my dealings with him, has always seemed to be — smart, good-humoured and reliable. There are quite a few staff round this place whom one would obtain bucketloads of schadenfreude (what is the measurement unit for schadenfreude anyway?) from seeing publicly humiliated, but Hansen’s certainly not one of them. Yet he’s put his hand up to cop the blame for stealing material from a New Zealand commentator for Bishop’s contribution to a book on the Liberals. Nevertheless, Bishop is, to use one of those terms that only ever occurs in newspapers, “embroiled” in another plagiarism scandal. Unfortunately, the last one was blamed on staff as well.
When Brendan Nelson was Opposition Leader, he centralised Coalition staffing in his office. Most Shadow Ministers were given one adviser who had to be media contact as well as chief adviser, researcher, transcript wrangler and much else besides. The Government’s reduction of staffing numbers across the board put further pressure on them. Even Government Ministers struggled with the lack of staff, but at least they had the Public Service working for them. Shadow Ministers had nothing.
As always, one shouldn’t feel any sympathy for the Coalition, which pulled every trick in the book and then some to maximise its political advantage while in office. The conservatives earned several decades worth of bad political karma for what they did in office. Nevertheless, limited staff resources aren’t conducive to an effective Opposition, which is a necessary component of a democracy.
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When Malcolm Turnbull became leader, he sensibly re-allocated staff out of his office and back to shadow ministers, taking some of the burden off their advisers. Kate Walsh recently joined Julie Bishop’s office as media adviser. But it was while Hansen was still running the show alone that the plagiarism occurred. When Hansen says Bishop’s piece was knocked together quickly because they had no staff, it sounds entirely plausible, even if it doesn’t change the fact that it was a dumb thing to do in the first place.
And who on earth is Roger Kerr? From New Zealand’s Business Roundtable, apparently. If, as some of us have done, you spend extended periods of time across the Tasman, you’ll hear constantly about the Business Roundtable, which fancies itself as a sort of independent state within New Zealand peopled only by rugged individualists and aggressive deregulationists. It also, at least for this juvenile-minded correspondent, automatically evokes that Monty Python song, but that’s another story.
But if you’re going to plagiarise someone in a piece on the future of Liberal Party, there are better people to steal from. Friedrich von Hayek? Milton Friedman? Margaret Thatcher? Ronald Reagan? No, they went for … Roger Kerr.
The bigger problem — and in this sense the timing of the Peter van Onselen book to which Bishop was contributing might be slightly unfortunate — is that the Liberals need to acknowledge that the ideological ground has shifted substantially in recent weeks. Ideology usually takes years or decades to evolve or fall out of favour. No longer. In keeping with the remorseless acceleration of pretty much everything now, in a few short weeks the hitherto impregnable deregulatory, anti-government tenets of neoliberalism have been put to flight. If anyone was in any doubt, Alan Greenspan’s admission not merely of error but of shock at how wrong he was last week sealed the deal. Regulation and a strong role for government are back.
The Liberal Party, having been a somewhat reluctant adherent of neoliberalism (it could never bring itself to really embrace the bit about small government — too many votes to buy and too many Nationals in the joint party room), must now rethink its language and work out just how much market intervention it supports and why. Quoting old-school deregulationists, with or without footnotes, isn’t going to help with that.
Oh, and I stole that first line from Oscar Wilde.