23 Apr 2004, Comments (0)

In my own words (I think)

Author: Helen

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Don’t get me wrong. I think plagiarism is a very serious matter. For writers.

Politicians recycle language. If the plagiarism in question was very severe and blatant, then it could indicate poor character and integrity. If the politician’s communication is so poor it indicates stupidity or confused thinking, then I’ll note that. But if it’s just the usual level of sloppiness we’ve come to expect from the politician type, well, it’s very sad, but: News flash: they often aren’t that good at expressing themselves. Have you noticed?

Although I’m not impressed with politicians’ lack of originality and love of buzzwords and cliches, I look at a politician from the point of view of what policies he or she is talking about. Like, education: Free, secular and compulsory, yes I know it’s a hackneyed phrase but I’ll accept it from politicians if they mean it. Yes, it would be good if politicians were erudite and creative and witty — surely a politician with stilted language is placing him/herself in a mental harness. But, in general, I don’t expect them to be Tim Winton.


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And as for cutting and pasting, well, they mightn’t have been able to Google back in Menzies’s day, but political historians like Judith Brett point out that even some of the political icons of old weren’t past pinching a phrase or two if they liked them.

JUDITH BRETT: Politicians have always done that.

I mean, for example, When I was working on Menzies speech ‘The Forgotten People’, which has since come on to take almost iconic significance, when I was doing the research later on the history of the Liberal Party, I came across a speech by John Latham [How bizarre is that? But no relation, it seems] in the 1930s and I’ve actually got that and I thought I might read a bit, because it’s not exactly word for word, but it is pretty much.

(Reads) “It seems to me that the middle class is too often left out of it in political matters, though it is one of the most valuable in the community.”

Those phrases are used 15 years later by Menzies in his radio broadcast.

This is how political language works.

Our Liberal government borrows policies wholesale from the Bush, Blair and Thatcher governments (Privatisation! PPPs! Tax cuts!), so they have no right to criticise. They are also guilty of recycling other peoples’ words in exactly the same way Latham has done (“…This is a regime that will burn a person’s limbs..”…:”cut and run”). More than that, they constantly mangle, torture and uglify the english language in a way that makes the TV or radio news an excruciating experience. Should I give Howard and his spin doctors points for originality for inventing new buzzwords like “non-core promise” and “pre-deploy“? This may be original, but is it desirable?

Yes, it’s a side issue. So why are the liberals so exercised about it (particularly since they were so open to the same charges themselves – which suggests a hurried and poorly thought-out attack?) Well, like moral panics and wedge issues (Buzzwords – sorry!), this kind of silly brouhaha does help to get things off the media and public radar which reflect badly on the current government. And what might those things be? well, quite a few I could think of. So kids, when the entire Liberal cabinet starts going on about something like this, it’s time to take a harder look at everything else that’s going on. And yes, I realise entirely how inconsistent I’m being with this triple-barrelled blog post.

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But – It’s a dark cloud that has no lining, and it’s a long blogpost that has no cliches. And so it was that this sorry and trivial parliamentary catfight brought me some drivetime merriment. It’s that Andrew Downer — and I know sometimes I give the impression I think he’s a bit of a goose. Well, Andrew was in terrific form. Laugh! I tell you, that guy is a rapier wit when he gets going.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It exposes Mr Latham as being nothing more than a phoney.

REPORTER: You and the Prime Minister…

ALEXANDER DOWNER: It’s hardly surprising. It’s hardly surprising he opposes the free trade agreement with the United States because one aspect of the free trade agreement with America is it toughens up the copyright laws, makes it more difficult for people to plagiarise, to copy.

Geddit?! Pause while I hold my aching sides and wipe the tears away! Oh you master of hyperbole, you. I tell you we get value for money supporting this person.

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The game of Spot Howard’s Plagiarisms gave the pundits some fun for a while, although the PM is too cunning for that to happen very often — he’s too much the master of spin to be caught out and as I said, he steals policies rather than sentences. I came across this quote from Rodney Paige, the US Secretary of Education.

Paige: “The reason that Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system…..In a religious environment the value system is set. That’s not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values.”

John Howard: “People are looking increasingly to send their kids to independent schools for a combination of reasons. For some of them, it’s to do with the values-driven thing; they feel that government schools have become too politically correct and too values-neutral.”

Except, of course, Christian is replaced with independent (PR touchy-feely code for private.) See, kids, you need to pick longer quotes so you can mangle each sentence in your own unique way, to sound different to the people you copy.

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