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How a little plagiarism is promoting honesty in Australian politics

By Andrew Bartlett - posted Thursday, 3 June 2004

During my speech to the recent Democrats National Conference, I consciously plagiarised lines from Mark Latham (although I don't know if they were used by someone else prior to that) because they are among the most important that I have seen him say since he became opposition leader, even though they didn’t get much coverage. Hopefully if others draw attention to his statement, he will be more committed to sticking to it should he become Prime Minister.

I also used them because they summarised the enormous importance behind the “Lie Detectors” campaign that I was launching on behalf of the Australian Democrats. As I stated then,

We believe in the power to achieve social reform by democratic means. We believe in the capacity of human reason to create a fairer society, but if the public does not trust the political system, then our task is made doubly difficult. Without trust in public life, there can be no meaningful reform.


As our name suggests, the Democrats believe in democracy as the best means to achieve social change. There can be no hiding from the fact that our democracy is sick and there is very little trust left from the public. The Lie Detectors acknowledges that the Democrats have at times failed (along with everyone else) to keep the bastards honest and it is getter harder by the day. This is one reason why we have updated Don Chipp’s famous phrase to "The Lie Detectors" in our campaign to promote honesty in public life.

The challenges confronting those who support an effective democracy are even greater than they were in Don Chipp’s time and require a stronger commitment to honesty and a stronger Senate to do the job it was created for – to examine proposed laws in every area and properly scrutinise government actions.

We have one of the most dishonest governments in Australia's history. Their record of dishonesty, from the war in Iraq to children overboard, has compromised the safety and security of Australians and the integrity of the legal system that should be protecting our freedoms.

This dishonesty extends to the latest Budget, where they have tried to portray a massive pre-election vote buying spree as responsible economic management and a fair distribution of resources, when it is exactly the opposite.

Promoting honesty in politics is about a lot more than identifying lies. It is about protecting and strengthening our democracy.

A stronger Senate is one of the best antidotes for the growing epidemic of dishonesty in politics. Whether we have John Howard or Mark Latham as Prime Minister, we need a strong Senate to oversee them and be a check on their power.


The Senate and the Courts were established in our Constitution to counter-balance the power of the Government and it is no coincidence that both the Senate and the Courts have been under constant and growing attack from the current government.

Undermining the rule of law and the power of the Parliament doesn’t just give more power to the Government of the day; it destroys the foundations of democracy and the protections for the public against injustice and tyranny. Dishonesty and poor judgement has compromised our nation’s security and the safety of Australians around the globe.

The Democrats are determined to put honesty back at the centre of political debate. A strong and fearless Senate will go a long way to achieving that goal. This isn’t just an attack on the Government or the major parties. It is a challenge to all of us, Labor and Liberal, Democrats and Greens. Nor is it confined to political parties. We need more transparency and truthfulness from bureaucracies, business and the media and lobby groups. We can all do far better and we must.

The Democrats believe we still need to look for every opportunity to find common ground with other parties and groups in society to help move things forward, but we do so while also being determined not to let democracy deteriorate further.

As I stated above, I believe in the power of human reason to create a better society, but the power of reason depends on openness and honesty, not blind faith and bald assertion. I know I’m far from the first to say that, but the more good ideas and basic truths are plagiarised (with acknowledgement) the better chance we have of protecting democracy from further damage.

There is more to achieving positive change than having a strong, open and honest democracy, but if we don’t even have that, we have no chance.

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About the Author

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. He graduated from University of Queensland with a degree in social work and has been involved in a wide range of community organisations and issues, including human rights, housing, immigration, Indigneous affairs, environment, animal rights and multiculturalism. He is a member of National Forum. He blogs at Bartlett's Blog.

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