Was it doctored or was it an honest mistake? It depends which of the major parties you believe.
Late yesterday, the transcript of an interview with Labor’s human services spokeswoman Linda Burney on Sky News was distributed to journalists in Parliament House.
But the document was littered with errors and omissions, which the Coalition has seized upon as evidence of foul play.
Ms Burney was asked about issues within her portfolio, such as concerns the Newstart unemployment payment is too low.
But she was also quizzed on Australia’s relationship with China, the decision by Andrew Hastie to use parliamentary privilege to name a Chinese-Australian businessman funded the bribery of a UN official, and the debate within the Labor party on indefinite detention of asylum seekers.
Large tracts of Ms Burney’s answers were left out, or abbreviated.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton claimed it was further evidence of divisions within Labor on border protection.
“This is not just some mistake by somebody transcribing and can’t understand garbled words within a tape recording,” he said. “This is a deliberate act of fabrication.
“This is not a clarification, not an improvement of grammar — this is a fabrication, pure and simple.”
Mr Dutton’s interest in the transcript stems from Ms Burney’s comments on indefinite detention of asylum seekers, where she admitted there needed to be a limit on the amount of time people spent in offshore processing centres.
That is an issue that is likely to flare up at Labor’s National Conference in Adelaide in July.
Shortly after Mr Dutton levelled the accusations at Labor, Ms Burney fronted the press gallery and described the incident as “a genuine mistake” by one of her staff.
“I think we’ve been very clear about that,” Ms Burney said.
My comments are on record, and there was a mistake in my office.”
She said the staffer involved had been counselled, and argued it was solely her office’s responsibility for “transcribing the interview and checking its accuracy”.
Distribution versus accuracy
The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party distributes all of its press releases through Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s office.
“It’s obvious today that Mr Shorten needs to provide an explanation as to why his office cleared this press release,” Mr Dutton said.
“This is not something that’s just gone out from Linda Burney’s office, out of some junior press secretary that’s put it out in a hurried fashion.
“This has gone through Bill Shorten’s office, it has been cleared by senior people and authorised by senior people, which is written down the bottom of the transcript that they’ve released by senior people within the Labor Party.”
Most, if not all, electronic communication from the major parties now carries a note at the end of the document saying who authorised the message.
It followed accusations during the 2016 federal election campaign that text messages, with no indication of who had authorised the comments, were sent on polling day alleging the Coalition would sell off Medicare.
Allegations of doctoring transcripts are not new in politics. Barnaby Joyce was forced to defend accusations he was trying to mislead the public after it was revealed Hansard records of comments he made on drought relief were changed.
Mr Joyce, who was then the agriculture minister, blamed a staffer.