In New Zealand, the Labour Party, the second largest party in the country, is being forced to address allegations in its Future of Work document.
The document was intended to be a flagship piece by the party about the shifting landscape for employment and technology. It was intended to set the stage for its policies in the 2017 election campaign. However, rather than inspiring conversations about employment rates, it instead has drawn criticism for its unattributed reuse of content.
In allegations made public by Phil Quin, a former party member, who claimed the paper lifted three passages that appear to have been taken nearly verbatim and without citation from either The Economist or other publications it owns.
MP Clare Curran, the author of the paper, has apologized for the error saying that it was brought about not by malice but by a mistake resulting from the scale of the project. Curran went on to say that the paper has been updated on their website to provide the correct attribution.
Still, the damage appears to largely be done with much of the conversation about the document focusing on the plagiarism rather than the policies inside it. As the party gears up for the next election, this is both an unwanted and easily avoidable distraction.
However, the party certainly isn’t alone making this blunder. During the 2014 election here in the United States, two separate politicians made similar blunders with policy documents they posted. However, both of those cases involved individual politicians rather than entire parties and, also in both cases, the candidates were accused of plagiarizing from sources within their party.
Both candidates involved lost their races, though it’s unlikely that the alleged plagiarism was a major factor in their defeats.
Fortunately for Labour, they were accused of lifting from reputable sources, with even the party’s critics acknowledging that “If you’re going to cut and paste from anywhere, The Economist’s not a bad place to start.”
Between the nature of the plagiarism (short sections from reliable sources) and the party’s swift response, which included a correction and apology, it’s likely that the incident will be left behind. Nonetheless, the case is a reminder that plagiarism detection tools are not just useful for catching those violating the rules, but also for detecting mistakes.
Most likely, if the document had been checked as it was going through the editing process, the error would have been detected and fixed without ever reaching the public.
It’s a simple mistake, but one usually born out of a confidence in the work, but given the price of a slip up, it’s worth taking the precaution.
After all, the costs and time it takes to check a work for plagiarism are very low, but the costs of having plagiarism, even a small amount, in your work is incredibly high.
This is something the New Zealand Labour Party has likely learned well.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.