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Speak to Abbott voters

When will progressives learn to speak to people? Not at people. Speak to people. A great example of the wishy washy language that the left uses to try to convince people of the merits of their ideas is contained in this article about wealth inequality by Richard Denniss. Denniss wrote this fantastic piece in response to Amanda Vanstone’s whine about the poor-rich-people getting picked on which conveniently forgot to mention that wealth doesn’t trickle down and was therefore total bullshit. Denniss clearly knows his stuff. If you’ve not heard of him, you can read all about him and his progressive think tank, the Australia Institute in the Saturday Paper. So you’ll notice I did just say that Denniss’s piece was fantastic, but I also called it wishy washy. Contradictory yes, but keep up because what is fantastic to the left can be completely wasted on those who don’t share the left’s values. And this is what I’m talking about when I say progressives need to learn to speak to people in a way that will actually convince them to think differently about something they thought they had firm views on. Like ideological positions towards wealth inequality. For instance.

Before you go and say ‘who does this nobody blogger think she is telling a certified expert think tanker (do they actually think inside tanks?) how to communicate’, let me preface my argument by explaining that I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have many of them. Because I too can’t understand for the life of me why anyone would have voted for Tony Abbott, and every time I get into a conversation with one of them I have to take a deep breath and walk quickly away before I lose my temper. But we need to remind ourselves that we can’t understand why anyone would vote for Abbott because we don’t think like Abbott voters. And it’s not until we work out how they think that we can possibly even begin to think about how we speak to them. Not in a weird ‘let’s hypnotise or brainwash Abbott voters to convince them never to do that again’, (although if anyone has any thoughts on this I’d be happy to hear them). But what I’m saying is that progressives need to learn how non-progressives understand the world before we can explain why progressive policies are in everyone’s best interests. Because we do believe that don’t we?

A perfect example of this is Denniss’s very logical argument about wealth equality, or fairness, being good for all of us. This is 100% true, and I’ve written before about how this concept should be adopted by the Labor Party as the overarching narrative to define their policy purpose. When I read an article about the ill-effects of wealth inequality for all of us, rich and poor alike, I nod my head and in total agreement I say ‘well that’s sorted, we need to ensure there is wealth equality, done, let’s move on’. But I would say that wouldn’t I. And so would most other people who share my values and are likely to agree with Denniss’s article. So he’s preaching to the converted. But what about non-progressives and those who don’t sit firmly in either camp? These are the people we need to think hard about and work out what they see when they read such an article. Words like ‘fairness’ and ‘equity’ are littered throughout progressive communications, and of course they are feel-good words for people who value fairness and equity inherently. But what about those who believe in the merits of a free market above all else, who when a left-winger says ‘fairness’, hear ‘you’re trying to take away money I’ve earned to give to someone who hasn’t earned it, which is not fair’. It’s the same word, but the meaning behind it, and what is understood when it is heard is completely different for people with different values.

I said I didn’t have all the answers to this dilemma, but let me at least try to give you an example of how we could try speaking to Abbott voters (who, by the way, definitely don’t read this blog so please don’t point this out in the comments because I am fully aware I’m talking to progressives plus creepy conservative Ian Hall). But just say a progressive think tanker is writing in a mainstream newspaper. When they’re talking about wealth equality and the reasons why we need to reduce wealth inequality for the betterment of all of us – it’s the growing the pie rather than divvying up the same sized pie argument – they need to stop relying on statistics. Denniss used an awesome one right at the start of his very awesome article: ‘Australia’s richest seven people have more wealth than the bottom 1.73 million households combined’. To someone who thinks that wealth inequality is a problem, this statistic clearly shows its urgent magnitude. But to most Abbott voters, wealth equality is not a problem. It is an aspiration. Those richest seven people are heroes to many right-leaning Australians. To the aspirant, free-market-loving, keeping-ahead-of-the-Joneses-by-buying-a-better-than-your-neighbor’s-new-car-every-three-years and only-being-happy-when-you-have-the-most-expensive-house-on-the-street and the-wearing most-obvious-wealth-consumption-designer-clothes section of the Australian community, anything that opposes wealth inequality sounds suspiciously like higher taxation and a slippery slope to communism. So what do we say instead?

First we ask them what they do for a living. Bill says he sells home insurance. So you ask Bill, how many people get home insurance who can’t afford to buy their own homes? Wouldn’t Bill’s market be much bigger, and his job much easier and more prosperous if more people could afford to buy their own homes? That’s why Bill should be worried about wealth inequality. Gloria owns a restaurant. So you ask Gloria, is it true that people eat at your restaurant because they have disposable incomes? If lots of people are poorer than Gloria, and don’t have any money left over at the end of the week, who will come into Gloria’s restaurant? The very rich can only eat so much. I’m sure Gloria would love it if one of the seven richest Australians came into her restaurant, because one might assume there would be a sizeable tip (although this might be a flawed assumption). But the rich have lots of other restaurants to visit. And the poorest 1.73million can’t afford to even think about visiting any restaurant, let alone Gloria’s. Isn’t Gloria worried that if the number of well off Australians shrinks, and the number of poor Australians grows, her business won’t be able to sustain her aspirational-affluent lifestyle? As I said when I last wrote on this topic, who is going to shop at Walmart if even those people who work at Walmart can’t afford to shop there? See how we’re all better off if we’re all better off?

Think like they do, and speak to them. Otherwise we’ll get Abbott again and the wealth inequality gap will continue to grow. Please help us!


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  1. lawrencesroberts

    The labor party are the most hopeless communicators but they all seem to think it is lovely or they would not keep doing it: Witness Bill Shorten’s recent commercials.

  2. halsaul

    I agree with you Victoria, Richard Denniss wrote a good article and I understood perfectly the logic of it. I also agree that Labor, and sorry to say Bill Shorten, do not “cut through” when they get a chance to be on t.v. or radio – and that’s not that often either, it seems to me.

    How I long for the cutting wit of PJK. Instead of hard hitting derision being heaped on Abbott for his mistakes – and there are plenty of them – we get Bills’ responses that ape abbotts’ (no pun intended) . If I hear Bill Shorten hesitate and go ahhh ahh mid-sentence when trying to make a point one more time, I will scream.

    If Labor cannot defeat Abbott, who lied his way into office and then with his entire front bench, proceeded to make appalling policy decisions, in direct contrast to what LNP said pre-election – they will stand for nothing. Australia is desperate for them to stand up for the sick, poor, education, medicare, Gonski, NBN – all good for Australias’ future. Abbott is destroying these things. Is it a lack of courage?

    We are fast turning into another State of America, and that is a very ugly society.

  3. Florence nee Fedup

    Mr Shorten seems to be confusing many Labor voters. If this is so, he must be creating havoc with Abbott. Abbott has little to attack or wedge. I suspect Abbott will take the bait. His hubris grows and will find he ha been given enough rope to finally hang himself.

    Labor cannot afford to copy Abbott as opposition leader. This is where Abbott is at his strongest. When he has to deal with fact and realities he comes apart.

    As things are going, the MSM cannot continue not to question Abbott. This they are slowly beginning to do. We all know what happens, when the man is force to answer questions.

    Ifwe want to see the end of Abbott, we have no choice but to keep faith, and practises patience. If it turns out bad, I am sure the party will fixed the things. I find it hard to believe that Shorten, along with the rest of the Opposition is as weak, as they are presenting.

    Abbott has recognised this, and is upping his attack on Labor.

    A great part of the community are listening to no politician. Still, they cannot help but see Abbott, judging more his body language than words. It is all about perceptions. Abbott did it, as he said the other day, finding a few slogans that catch the public reaction, repeating them for an eternity.

    Because the focus has remained on the government, in spite of their efforts to keep blaming Labor for everything the perception being form is of a lout and bumbling idiot. I believe if things continue as they are, he will be unable to turn this around. His war has and will do him no good. He has ensured he will get not credit from the G20. I thought the was going to APEC forum. That seems to be cancelled. Why?

    Could be wrong, but I hope I am not.

  4. stephentardrew


    Its a damn gamble thats worrying the hell out of progressives.

  5. CMMC

    Hello, Constitutional Crisis pending, we don’t got no budget.

    Governor General, please have this Jesuit fanatic beheaded so we can resume, like, society.

  6. PopsieJ

    Oops, CMMC your post is encouraging terrorism so I will say bye bye now, oops I have read it so off I go, and my family can’t say where I have gone and this AIMN site will disappear and no one will be will be able to talk about it and then Flo Fed Up will have her E mail hacked.
    We live in interesting times !

  7. Rob031

    @Victoria Rollison

    Interesting article Victoria. I agree that we do need to better understand the mindset of those we wish to have meaningful conversations with. It’s a bit like discussing things with people who are ‘hooked into’ some religion that we disagree with. Nietzsche put this well when he said “Know thy enemy“.

    You mentioned how the concept of fairness is seen differently by progressives and LNP supporters. Though I would describe myself as a progressive it hasn’t always been so. Till my early twenties (when I started reading more widely and went on to do a liberal arts degree) I voted Liberal. My parents were middle class and my father was the branch manager of large UK based firm. As far as I can recall politics was never discussed at home but the conservative mindset was kinda ‘just there in the air’ and I simply ‘picked it up’.

    Like so many conservatives I had acquired a standard set of stereotypes along the lines of so-called ‘leaners’ and ‘learners’. It never occurred to me that much of what constitutes ‘success’ was due to geographical and temporal accident. It was always my implicit conviction that ‘people like us’ could always succeed if we tried hard enough and had a bit of luck along the way. With this, of course, went the belief that those who languished on the dole etc. were that way because they were lazy and so on. Not people like us.

    Did I become a convert to a more progressive way of seeing things in my twenties? No. I simply learned more and came to think more about politics, sociology, psychology – and people in general – over two or three years. But all the same I can still feel my way back to those conservative feelings when I try. This can be a tad discomforting and, perhaps, some of you understand this too.

    I have found that this understanding of my-now and my-then can help a bit when trying to speak meaningfully with conservatives. It humanises them for starters. They stop being ‘Martians’, morons, idiots, etc. etc; and some contact can be made as people intuit at some level when they are and are not being understood or taken seriously.

    My usual plan, when I’m trying to reach conservatives is to get them to consider the extent to which serendipity plays a significant part in our lives. This is often helped by asking them about their own lives: their family and schools; significant others; network of friends; and the unexpected twists and turns that helped and hindered them along the way. It’s amazing how saying less and asking more gets people to see stuff with greater depth and clarity.

    Another line of approach is to take a hard-headed look at certain things from an economics point-of-view. Take ‘dole-bludgers’ for example. It can go something like this:

    Given that there are more out-of-work people than available jobs not everyone of these people will find a job. What would you rather see happen? Work-shy people getting a job? or someone that really wants to work get the job? Who will make the better employee? Who would you rather employ?

    And what of the others? Are they not a fact of economic life? What’s better? Restrict their income (and spending power) and have them driven into activities that will cost society more in terms of depression, policing, custodial care, etc; or simply wear the minimal relative cost of paying them the dole? Even if I can’t elicit some sort of sympathy for those ‘on struggle street’ such questions can appeal to their ‘harder’ self.

    But it’s bloody hard and often frustrating work – and my shadow self would like to beat them over the head with the Truth! Bet they feel that way about us at times too 🙂

  8. stephentardrew

    Great post Victoria Rollison:

    I agree. I have experience using similar strategies and while individuals would be less dogmatic in my presence, or resident in one of the programs I managed, they often reverted back to the old way of thinking as soon as someone with reasoned alternatives is out of their lives. I have noticed that social conformity is a powerful trigger that helps keep ideologues within the fold. Damnably difficult to change peoples entrenched dogmas however I admire you for trying and will keep at it myself. I know I am pretty upfront and use satire a lot however in the real world I must be much more circumspect. Damn complex social dynamics and imperatives playing out in a web of conflicting and often irrational beliefs.

  9. Matthew Oborne

    I have long thought we often comment to advertise being the intelligentsia, we do have to dumb it down and talk in more basic terms and self interest, getting small business to understand Liberal ideology serves large corporations best and even that isnt long term as policies of smash and grab for today levae the cupboards bare for tomorrow. Some business is seeing what it is like having a government that panics a population into hoarding their money. when you tell a local Liberal that water increases each year are now greater than our total water price from 20 years ago because it was sold off, they get it. keeping the cost of essential services held in public hands used to make or break governments. I pay more in two weeks for electricity than I did for a whole quarter 20 years ago, and then I lit my backyard light the MCG. To explain to my cousin he has two emplyees and thousands of customers, so if he had to pay higher wages in unison with others, his wages bill slightly increases but the amount of money he can earn greatly increases is lost on him. Woolies do well by keeping wages down but again it is still false economy.

  10. Peter Stanton

    ‘You cannot reason a person out of a position they did not reason themselves into.” Many times as i have tried to reason with Coalition voters I have recalled that old saying.

  11. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Brilliant Victoria Rollison,

    I like how you think.

    I’ve been advocating on behalf of myself and mature age unemployed or under-employed people who dearly want paid, meaningful employment but who are stuck on Newstart despite their immense experience, skills and qualifications.

    I have also been advocating why Newstart needs to be increased, more flexible and more innovative in order to give trapped unemployed or under-employed people livable livings while they attempt to gain appropriate employment.

    I have advocated to Kevin Andrews’ office for the Welfare Review. I have advocated to Jenny Macklin for her Social Policy Platform. I have advocated in print and television media. I have advocated on various social media non-stop.

    I have especially endeavoured to present the Win-Win for everyone, if I and my fellow motivated mature age people, gain those paid, meaningful jobs that we crave and have developed our skills for.

    Alternatively, I have also advocated the need for innovative and accessible micro-financing or micro-credit schemes Over and Above a Newstart support payment that will assist me and my compadres into sustained and livable self-employment, if we cannot get the jobs available that meet our skills, experience and qualifications. Jenny Macklin was particularly interested in my micro-financing proposal.

    By framing it as a saving to the taxpayer for not having to pay any or so much Newstart for me, as well as my becoming a fellow taxpayer, this makes my proposal attractive and presumably the Win-Win for us all.

    Meanwhile, I am also able to argue that it is Meaningful, Appropriate employment that I seek, as opposed to cleaning toilets etc that I don’t consider justify the $100,000 debt that I have incurred to gain my Master of Laws, within the last decade.

    I agree that it is important to understand what fellow Australians who voted for Abbott see as priorities and aspirations, so that you can speak in language they understand and value.

    Then, you may have a chance to make some difference, especially with Swinging Voters or disappointed people, who are sickened by Abbott’s and Morrison’s flagrant and brazen abuses of social justice principles.

  12. Kerri

    Well said again Victoria! But now the LNP have moved the goalposts and the right wingers are all hyped up about Islam taking over Australia. Last weekend at a country function, talking to a farmer, right wing of course who was petrified all those little Indonesian Muslims ( his words) were beefing up their army and were now going to come and take over and how we need to bring back national service so we have an army to fight them with and so on. Rather than start and endless discussion regarding Ignorant Islamaphobia I chose to cut him short by replying “I am more worried that we are headed for a recession”
    But I feel I lost! How do you reveal the truth to these people who need to be progressive when fear is such a powerful political weapon. Especially now Brandis has assured that any journalist prepared to expose the fear mongering for what it is will go to jail? We are being slowly led into a future that will be like north Korea and people are so ignorant of North Korea that you can’t even convince them with that example?

  13. Cath Wallace

    Thank you . I couldn’t agree more. Once while listening to parliament I heard an LNP MP or maybe senator speaking on the repeal of the carbon tax. It was BS from start to finish but could be clearly understood by any ten year old. Then came a young lady taking the opposing view. ,She gave an absolutely brilliant speech literally tearing his arguments to pieces. It would have been applauded by academics and others who really understand the subject. Although I consider myself reasonably literate and vitally anxious about the effect of climate change on future generations, I have to admit that a large part of it was lost on me. There must be some progressive people capable of translating important concepts into plain English.

  14. stephentardrew

    Kerri the only way is to grab their kids early enough to counter the ingrained ignorance. You ain’t gonna move these guys and gals. Their cultural tradition of conservatism is often the thing that ties their rural communities together. They don’t even realize they are just following Dad’s habituated patterns. Critical analysis is lost on them. Its a sad fact that so many vote against their best interest. If it were not the case we would not have the debacle we now endure.

  15. Lee

    “But we need to remind ourselves that we can’t understand why anyone would vote for Abbott because we don’t think like Abbott voters. And it’s not until we work out how they think that we can possibly even begin to think about how we speak to them. ”

    “First we ask them what they do for a living. Bill says he sells home insurance. So you ask Bill, how many people get home insurance who can’t afford to buy their own homes? Wouldn’t Bill’s market be much bigger, and his job much easier and more prosperous if more people could afford to buy their own homes? That’s why Bill should be worried about wealth inequality. ”

    Exactly. Right wingers are a very selfish mob. Everything has to be turned back to how it affects them. Unfortunately that is easier said than done for me. I’m currently reading George Lakoff’s book ‘Don’t think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate.’ for assistance. If anyone can recommend other books like this I would appreciate it.

  16. Peter

    Trouble is that I’m yet to meet anyone who is willing to admit that they actually voted for our Tone.

  17. olive

    sadly i think so many people have actually come and made their homes in Australia, not for the beauty of the country , not for its progressive social history, Not because they admire Australia, but because they will be economically better off and have bought the aspirational, individualistic, ” what is materially best for me and my family ” focus and ideology ..I am not referring to refugees here. Very sad.

  18. stephengb2014

    Like your reasoning Rob031

  19. stephengb2014

    I am impressed with this article and also the comments?
    I have tried reason and have failed but I have had more positive response when asking questions that I know will stear the conclusion that it is in their interest to think more progressively.
    my success has been spectacularly poor!
    I loose interest because you have to start at the very lowest level of logic!

  20. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I’m assisting my local Greens candidate, Malcolm McKelvie in the electorate of Narracan (Gippsland) for the Victorian State elections in November.

    My current role is to ring around to as many constituents as possible in the lead-up to the election to discuss issues that concern people in their own electorate, or the wider State of Victoria. Of course, part of the role is also to gauge support for the Greens and to even garner assistance, if the voters are so-inclined.

    The responses are many and varied as you would expect, but I have been pleasantly conscious of the civil responses I’ve received from the conservative voters, who sometimes willingly tell me that they vote Liberal. I emphasise to them that I am not trying to pry, but I believe that the fact that I have made the effort to contact them on Malcolm’s behalf is respected and produces some ground for discussion about issues that affect us all.

    Obviously, I’d love to say I’ve had some triumphs in causing people to convert their allegiances from the Liberal/National Party mindset, but it is important that they know the Greens are reaching out and available for discussion on any topic.

    One man also said that he was impressed that the Greens had made an effort to contact him, which I understood to mean he appreciated that his thoughts and vote mattered, and this had a positive impact on how he viewed the Greens and how he would consider voting.

    This is hard work, but it is important to speak with people either face to face or via phone, so they feel their thoughts and values are valued. That is a large part of the battle.

  21. Wayne Turner

    I disagree most Abbott voters don’t think,they blindly and ignorantly follow what they hear in the MSM (when they both to pay attention.).Which is pro-Liberal.They are “brainwashed”.Except the big end of town,the rest that vote for them,claim to vote in “self interest”,but are too ignorant to know what that is.To be blunt they are idiots 🙁

  22. Daniel

    I find Tony Abbott is a mix of the 1950 neo liberalism( the reds are coming now its team Australian) and John Howards waiting for a economic boom to save him as his political father john had the mining boom now Abbott prays for another boom. the defining point of the madness of this elected group of senators and ministers on both sides will be when abbot tries to bring back some form of conscription as tony abbot has only the national defense and security card left to play to the nation of voters and he is desperate enough to try it. That will prove bill shorten as a leader or not because his response could bring him into power as PM/ leader or the ALP needs to beaten to death in another election to find a leader not the faceless man of 2 PM’s fall from power.

  23. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Too right @Daniel.

    We need people of calibre who are prepared to take the hard road of good policy and voter acceptance.

    The present Labor lot are sub-acceptable. The Libs/NP Degenerates are sub-human and NON-acceptable.

    Neither deserves our support. Least of all rabid Abbott and his LNP Degenerates.

    Keep hoping for proper representative government.

    And I will too.

    In the meantime, you might like to consider

    Let me or them know.

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