A confidential plagiarism investigation found a report co-written by Liberal senator James Paterson breached research integrity standards.
In 2015 Paterson helped write a paper critical of high pay rates, “generous” perks and union influence in the public service.
Paterson, then deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs, wrote the report with Aaron Lane, a lawyer and then PhD candidate at RMIT.
In small parts the paper is almost word-for-word as an internal document prepared by the Australian public service commission and supplied to the IPA eight months earlier. The commission was then headed by John Lloyd, who resigned in 2018 after controversy about his connections with the rightwing thinktank.
Guardian Australia has learned that earlier this year the similarities between the two reports prompted a complaint of plagiarism to RMIT. The complaint only concerned Lane, who then studied at RMIT. It alleged “plagiarism and copyright infringement” and accused Lane of misconduct and behaviour “likely to bring RMIT into disrepute”. Lane strongly denied the allegations and said the complaint was politically motivated.
The university’s confidential preliminary findings – handed down earlier this month and obtained by Guardian Australia – cleared Lane of the more serious charge of research misconduct.
But the university found the failure to cite the commission’s report constituted a minor breach of research integrity policy.
“Notwithstanding the small magnitude of this overlap, in light of correspondence provided through the FOI request log and the known affiliations of the authors of the reports, it is considered likely that that the [public service commission] report was drawn upon and made a significant intellectual contribution to the preparation, shaping and direction of the IPA report.
“Further, it was found that the lack of clarity with respect to the relationship between the works detracts from the transparency and accountability of the IPA report and does not adhere to RMIT policy.”
Paterson declined to comment when approached by Guardian Australia, although he previously told a Senate inquiry that Lane conducted the bulk of the work. He was not the direct subject of the complaint, because he did not study or work at RMIT.
Lane has consistently and vigorously denied any allegations of wrongdoing. He told Guardian Australia the RMIT had cleared him of misconduct, and welcomed the finding.
“I am pleased that the university has cleared me of this vexatious and politically motivated complaint,” he said.
The complainant gave two examples of copied text to back up his allegations of plagiarism.
RMIT said it would notify Lane of the breach in “an educative manner”. That included giving him information about the university’s expectations and urging him to “modify the published version of the IPA report to appropriately cite the contribution to the [commission] report”.
“RMIT University takes seriously the integrity of its research and would like to thank you for raising this concern,” the university said.