Quick Notes on a Minor Scandal

The likelihood of plagiarism struck me when several of the sentences in Labour’s Future of Work paper stood out for being curiously well written, especially in contrast to the empty jargon, the “noise shaped air”, that surrounds them (Veep, HBO, Season 4, Episode 1).  

For example, consider the following two sentences:

Exhibit A 

The role of government becomes essential with important challenges around the redistribution of incomes and ensuring the state maintains a share of the intellectual property it protects in order to address rising inequalities. 

Exhibit B 

Complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world. 

No prizes for guessing which was produced by an actual writer as opposed to the random blah-blah generator responsible for most political prose in NZ.  

Exhibit B, as we now know, came from January 3rd print edition of The Economist. Even now, Labour does not place the pilfered quote in quotation marks. Nor do they cite the source, except as a hastily appended footnote.  An ethical way of citing The Economist’s insights would be to put it like this:

As The Economist reported in January, “complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world”. 

By simply cutting and pasting the quote as if it is the original work of Labour’s drafters – with or without a footnote credit – is plagiarism of the most straightforward kind. 

I feel a bit sorry for Clare Curran over this. The Future of Work Commission is Grant Robertson’s baby but clearly he has decided to palm it off to lesser colleagues whenever it soils its nappies.  Hardly a profile in courage, but I can see that Robertson’s reputation, as Finance Spokesperson, is worth preserving.  

Sadder still is Curran spinning the plagiarism as “referencing errors” or accidentally omitted footnotes. A bit like Nigel Haworth insisting his email reproaching members over Twitter use was actually an offer of free training, this is another example of Labour seeming to believe that people are morons.  

To be clear, there are at least four examples of whole passages lifted from news articles and presented as original work. No effort was made to distinguish the plagiarised material from the non-plagiarised; it was blended together and presented as a cohesive whole.  There were no quotation marks or mentions of sources until after the plagiarism had been uncovered.  A “referencing error” would be using a quote from the Economist without correct citation, or paraphrasing inaccurately. This is not the case here. Words (and the ideas attached to them) were stolen, pure and simple.