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Searching for progressive solutions in the language of everyday politics

By Denis Bright

Inspirational communication frames have the capacity to positively change Australian political life along the milestones passed by incremental steps. Today’s advocates of change must be prepared to take linguistic risks in political communication to assist new generations of leaders to embark on Whitlamesque policies that are appropriate for a globalized era.

Readings in Quantum Physics and Linguistics (Oxford University Press 2013) do suggest that effective political communication is an art form which defies simple mechanistic analysis. Not so radical alternatives are clearly available for Australia as a major middle-ranking economy with good relationships with most Asian and Pacific countries. The evolving mainstream respect for Indigenous traditions in NAIDOC Week is also a good sign of political renaissance and national independence.

The silence of federal LNP leaders in offering independent analysis of international tensions to resolve problems on the Korean Peninsula, maritime boundaries in East Asia and the South China Sea is frightening. Hearsay has become the driver of promised military engagements in the traditions of the British Foreign Office from bygone eras which justified the cruelty of the Boer War and the Siege of Khartoum in colonial times.

In these times, there is scant public discussion of political dynamics in Indonesia, human rights in Irian Jaya or the growing income divide and the extent of malnutrition in Papua-New Guinea (PNG). Without public broadcasting, such concerns would go unnoticed.

This week’s Four Corner’s programme has just made an excellent foray into Donald Trump’s exotic business dealings in Java and Bali. Such involvement of the U.S. Commander in Chief is beyond all credibility. Alas, Australian LNP leaders fall into line with the advocates of military solutions in Washington and openly encourages their endeavours.

As the Turnbull Government offers more populist rhetoric, the electorate is becoming aware that the federal LNP is short of real solutions to both domestic and foreign policy challenges.

The situation will not change in Australia while the federal LNP remains in office. Future generations will be aghast at the timidity of best practice in the federal LNP’s public policies since 1996. Federal Labor has been in government for less than six years since 1996. The spirit of national resistance has been muffled by the emergence of a significant far-right senate cross-bench. It is the shrill populism in many federal LNP communications that attracts loyal voters in regional electorates like Hinkler and Dawson. Preference flows from far-right minor parties favour the LNP.

Hopefully, the close federal election result in 2016 is the last gasp of a do-little government. Federal Labor was voted into government in 1972 and 1983 after similar positive swings in the previous elections.

Every inspirational linguistic serve by opponents of the federal LNP should be a milestone in political re-awakening of a still apathetic electorate. In the traditions of the summer tennis season, it is appropriate for enthusiastic audiences to check out the state of political play as the mid-term of the Turnbull Government approaches in January 2018.

Searching for Exemplary Progressive Communicators

An emergent progressive communicator and consensus-builder in this political re-awakening of 2017 is ACTU secretary, Sally McManus.

In the first week of changes to penalty rates by the Fair Work Commission, Sally McManus has talked up the need to challenge falling real wages, underemployment through involuntary part-time work and an outrageous LNP-sponsored retail traineeship wage.

The ACTU secretary has explained that the 2 per cent increase in the minimum wage was quite insufficient to offset the loss of penalty rates.

The main impediment to Sally McManus’ case for wage justice comes from the failure of mainstream commercial media outlets to cover the broader employment issues in more detail.

Sally McManus’ commitment to the mobilization of the trade union movement on behalf of 700,000 workers in retail, hospitality, restaurant and pharmacy sectors is well timed. The appeal extends beyond traditional unionized sectors to insecure jobs in administrative and financial services.

Retrenchments at the loans department of the Commonwealth Bank in Brisbane are a sign of the future rationalization of employment in the service sector of the economy.

In juxtaposition, commitment to the erosion of living wage rates clearly unites all factions within the federal LNP when rents and housing prices are out of control. Claims that steady ideological hands can deliver for Australians are worthless rhetoric.

New voices have been added from far-right sections of the federal cross-bench to enable Prime Minister Turnbull to share power with a coalition of knights with various hues. A similar coalition is clearly required on the progressive side of politics.

To an electorate which is turned off by mainstream political rhetoric, a green-left coalition must inspire with their grasp of attainable solutions to long-term economic, social and environmental challenges.

Advancing progressive policy solutions must tilt at ideological windmills to contribute to the renewal of Australia’s radical political traditions in a globalized era. Successful regional players like China and Singapore are prepared to deviate from more traditional corporate models of economics.

Communication Matrices Available

More comprehensive communication matrices can assist in discriminating between the generation of unproductive rhetoric and policy solutions which require Australia’s globalized economy to take on new social market dimensions to serve the wider population much more proactively. The longer-term changes needed for 2050 might commence with a better understanding of the language frames which are available to new generation leaders.

There are no magic models of inspirational political communication. A creative balance is needed to achieve balance between the linguistic paradigms which communicate empathy and engagement, progressive logic, policy solutions and ideological flexibility. Good can be made to seek out interacting sub-paradigms. However, inspirational communication is not just a mechanistic process. The more holistic interactions within the matrix produces the best results in the search for inspirational communication in the traditions of John Curtin and Gough Whitlam.

The importance of populist frames in political communication is critically evaluated by Elena Block of the University of Queensland and Ralph Negrine of the University of Sheffield. This recent article from the International Journal of Communication is available online without the need for access to specialist academic data bases.

The federal LNP with the assistance of the conservative senate cross-bench is quite adept at the use of populist language. Media commentators should question the logic of some LNP forays into populist rhetoric. Claims by Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to have an inner understanding of the bizarre mind-set of Donald Trump are worthless assurances:

“The United States is not going to allow the capacity for a despotic dictator from North Korea to fulfil his rhetoric and develop a nuclear warhead that could hit the US or its allies — for which, we are one.” (Quote from Barnaby Joyce, ABC News Online 7 July 2017)

Going with Optimum Levels of Risk Taking Linguistics

The use of an optimum level of populist rhetoric is necessary to challenge the low level of progressive political participation and membership of trade union networks. Awareness of developments in new age linguistics can re-open the status quo gates in Australia. Gough Whitlam (Werriwa), Bill Hayden (Oxley) and Dr. Rex Patterson (Dawson) all had commanding majorities even after the disastrous 1966 federal election.

Defenders of old ways are still well equipped with the conventional wisdom of Australian conservatives which inspirational Labor leaders successfully confronted in historically difficult times

Real linguistic risk-taking is required for progressive renewal in Australia.

Both Bill Shorten and Sally McManus have shown a willingness to challenge our misplaced faith in corporate economics and militarism with appropriately less than radical alternatives.

Under challenge is Australia’s prolonged neo-colonial status in a world that needs more independent advocacy for peaceful and sustainable development. The policy breakthroughs are in the wind in both Australia and the United States itself if the world is lucky enough to survive the excesses of Donald Trumpism and the lack of visionary leadership by local quisling leaders.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.


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  1. Jaquix

    Interesting points Mr Bright. Agree Sally McManus is a welcome newish addition to the political scene. Always interesting to listen to.

  2. Freetasman

    Sally McManus and Lee Rhiannon bring hope but they have to be alert of those that will try to discredit or move them to irrelevant positions in our political landscaping.
    They are trying hard with Lee and will do the same with Sally.

  3. Trish Corry

    Very interesting article. I am writing on a similar topic on Sunday. Mine is from a framing and narrative perspective. The difficulty is mainstream media as you point out. However, better use of technology could be used. Re: Regional LNP electorates: Murdoch Press bought APN about two years ago and now our local paper is just absolute rubbish. I stopped subscribing the day there were five anti Labor LTE and an anti Labor editorial. In addition, whether it’s the paper or social media, the same local LNP supporters whinge, whine and complain about everything. LTE in our newspaper are often anti Muslim, homophobic and telling us how God doesn’t approve and complaining about the local QLD Labor MPs and the mayor. She is independent but Labor. Media is powerful. It’s a shame they largely support the side who cause so much damage. I like your profile at the end. Is that an embedded card? It’s a good idea.

  4. Maggie

    Would welcome debate which is more inclusive and inspiring for all Australians .

  5. Patrick

    Labor definitely needs to reclaim its traditional heartland support base. This has been fractured by far-right parties in localities burdened by employment and social problems. Fortunately this has not happened in most indigenous communities in regional areas. Labor must dare to inspire and deliver for its core support base.

  6. Leila smith

    Timely article Denis, I think Labour is reaching out to its base and this will be evident in the lead up to the next election .
    I agree the world needs to to survive the Trump era in America, and move forward in a cohesive, not a world of devisions

  7. havanaliedown

    Global Warming… Climate Change… Extreme Weather… Climate Chaos… Pay more $ for energy, for zero environmental benefit

    Gay Marriage… Same-Sex Marriage… Marriage Equality… Sharia Multiple Marriage/Child Marriage

  8. townsvilleblog

    The time has arrivedfor a major change in how we do things in Australia. Wouldn’t it be nice to see infrastructure built up to a standard rather than down to a price. We could have properly prepared roads that are built to last instead of seeing them affected by potholes 6 months after they are built as an example. It may cost more initially however the maintenance on the infrastructure makes the cheap initial cost a bad joke. We must learn that excellence is not an act but a habit. We need a revolution in progressive thoughts and actions.

  9. wam

    Well again your words sent me away to the ether to find quixote (risk taking involves uncertainty not only of the outcome but also of the action or procedure selected to perform an oral task.) and king kong(risk taking in memorisation)

    When my facebook rabbottians were on about gillard doing nothing in government I used to forlornly post what about johnnie in 12 years sold telstra, gold and airports, WoMD wars and bought guns gillard 600 bills through minority in both houses NBN, NDIS, NAPLAN.
    the recipients could understand the former but not the latter.

    Trump, the rabbott and the morning shows speak the former.

    How to combat that simplicity needs complexity can billy risk it? If not QED

  10. Tessa

    Labor’s overall vote did improve in all four coastal seats between Lyne and Richmond but only after preferences. In Page, the Liberal Democrats and Christian Democratic Party delivered the seat to the Nationals by adding over 75 per cent of their preferences with another 5,500 votes. Why are so many people supporting far-right linguistic slogans on How to Vote Cards?

  11. Borris

    Thanks for the 50 year forward perspective, Denis. Politics must change to represent our needs if the fabric of Australian society is to continue. Labor won a majority of seats from NSW to Tasmania and in four seats in the two Territories. What happened to Labor’s message in the three other states?

  12. Vikingduk

    “Lack of visionary leadership by local Quisling leaders.” And there we have it, betrayed by a bunch of highly educated, grossly incompetent politicians, the chosen ones, determined to implement their noxious agenda on a largely dumbed down electorate, willingly assisted by equally traitorous MSM. And a ruptured tomato is deputy pm. Dog help us, how is it that we allow this traitorous state of affairs to continue? These lying, arrogant, self-serving arseholes, with the politics of hate and division, permitted to spruke their hypocrisy and slime to the detriment of a large proportion of the population. Are we that brain dead?

  13. Paul

    Thanks Denis! Great article.

    The language of politics can be so powerful if used appropriately with conscious policies to support it. Great example – Obama. Poor example – Trump’s twitter feed.

    I feel like its time for Australian politicians to get inspirational in their communication styles. Let’s do this.

  14. diannaart

    I (quietly) whenever I hear Sally McManus’ voice on the radio feel something unusual, I feel hope – so clear, informative and straight down the line.

    If she ever needs a job: “Sally McManus Teaches Damn Straight Linguistics” or “How to confuse Politicians – tell ’em the awful truth”.

    I have heard a little from Lee Rhiannon also, in fact until I listened to her I didn’t really get what all the fuss in the Greens was about. However, my unformed thoughts regarding Di Natale are starting to resolve into great concern that he ever was appointed leader.

    We need clear thinkers and erudite speakers more than ever.

  15. Al

    Thanks Denis – your views on the possibility of progressive political talk are much appreciated. There are some positive models. The interesting thing about Trudeau’s approach in Canada has been a push to return civility to political discourse. For it to work – and agree with him or not, it is working – requires a press/media that is committed to civil public exchange, a focus on issues, policy and everyday peoples’ experience. If you spend a week reading the Globe and Mail (or its conservative other, the National Post), CBC and CTV websites, you’ll see it at work – the volume of news is on issues that matter, not cheap tabloid beat ups or politicians slinging polarizing junk at each other. Having bought into the one liner, sound-bite repetitive approach from Rudd, Abbott, Gillard onwards, and they’re aided by one of the shallowest fourth estates around: if you didn’t know any better, a glance at the paper and we live in a culture of fallen sports heroes, corrupt pollies, criminal entrepreneurs, domestic violence and page 4 girls in bikinis. It’s time we did better as a country and as a culture.

  16. susan

    A really good article with good points about how progressives need to battle a biased media. I’d like Labor and the Greens to try a little of Abbot’s tactics and try visual signage to get the media’s attention. For example Shorten with a sign saying Save Medicare or Lee Rhiannon with a sign saying Give us Public Transport or Albanese saying Stop Company Tax Rorts and so on.

  17. Pat

    Very informative article and especially thought provoking in today’s fast paced tech focused times.

  18. Stella

    Denis, thanks for your insightful article. I learnt something new and enjoyed the discussion on international politics.

  19. Maria

    Well done Denis. There seems to be a rising chorus of voices calling for action on structural inequality in Australian social and industrial settings. When the call for change comes from trusted economists and the finance sector, it adds strength to the progressive agenda.
    The struggle now, is to get the attention of an electorate that is encouraged by our media to avoid policy scrutiny or worse: to vote against their best interests.

  20. Tessa

    All the way for this better understanding of the langue of everyday politics.

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