Pollie-speak: 9 uniquely Australian political terms
Please note: this blog post discusses language that some readers may find offensive.
Like the UK, Australia has been through tumultuous political times recently. We’ve had five changes of Prime Minister in the last decade, three of them overthrown by their own colleagues. And, like Brenda from Bristol, we’ve had our moment with surprise election announcements. Our lexicon is historically rich with political terms, and new ones continue to be added.Just a few of our favourites are listed below:
‘A topic of great public interest, especially a political one.’
Housing affordability is a barbecue stopper across Australia right now.
What could possibly stop proceedings at an Aussie barbecue? The beer is cold, people are clustered around the barbie supervising the charring of the steak, the kids are swinging on the clothes hoist, and the dips, chips, and salads are spread out on the table. Somebody mentions house prices in Sydney – a topic generating such intense discussion that it brings a temporary halt to all other activity. To call something a barbecue stopper is a measure of its profound significance to ordinary Australians.
‘A decision made by a party leader without consultation with colleagues.’
Another captain’s pick like this and there might be mutiny among Coalition MPs.
One of the newer terms in the political landscape, captain’s pick is a term borrowed from sport to denote a leader’s unannounced, unilateral decision. It first came to notice in 2013, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard ignored convention by announcing her preferred candidate for a Senate seat over an incumbent Labor senator, enraging some in her own party. Since then a number of contentious captain’s picks have been made, including one that hastened another Prime Minister’s downfall: Tony Abbott’s 2015 decision to award Prince Philip a knighthood, a move regarded by friends and foes alike as deeply eccentric.
‘A barbecued sausage served on a slice of bread, bought at a polling booth sausage sizzle on election day.’
Not all politicisation of food is bad news—just look at the humble democracy sausage.
Australia has a carrot and stick approach to voter turnout. The stick is compulsory voting (you can be fined if you don’t). The carrot is the democracy sausage. The prospect of keeping the bastards honest (see below) fires up some voters, but many of us regard the polling booth sausage sizzle fundraiser as the best thing about election day. If you have to queue up to vote at the local school, you might as well have a sausage in bread with fried onion, bought from the ubiquitous fundraising stall, while you wait. Tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, and mustard optional.
‘A parliamentary question asked of a Minister by a colleague to give the Minister the opportunity to deliver a prepared reply.’
The Member for Wamboin got the ball rolling with a Dorothy Dixer of impeccable shamelessness.
The Opposition, if they can help it, will never give a Minister a free kick in parliamentary Question Time. The solution is the Dorothy Dixer, the pre-arranged question asked by a colleague, allowing a crafted response. Dorothy Dix was the pen-name of US journalist E.M. Gilmer, author of a popular question-and-answer column syndicated in Australia from the 1920s to the 1950s. Some suspected Gilmer wrote the questions as well as the answers, and this is how the Dixer got its name.
Feed the chooks
‘To hold a press conference; to give a doorstop interview to journalists; to ‘feed’ the media.’
There have been so many leaks from the PM’s office that some might think it is just another example of the PM ‘feeding the chooks’.
This phrase was popularised by Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen (in office 1968–1987), whose authoritarian style was often expressed in the refrain ‘don’t you worry about that’. He kept the upper hand in his dealings with journalists, describing his daily press conferences as ‘feeding the chooks’. His contempt for the media was plain: ‘The greatest thing that could happen to the state … is when we get rid of the media. Then we would live in peace and tranquillity and no one would know anything.’ Fortunately for Queensland, this vision was not realised.
Keep the bastards honest
‘A slogan of the Australian Democrats alluding to the party’s role in holding the balance of power in the Senate. Now often used of politicians in general.’
Mum wanted to keep the bastards honest by voting for independents in the State election.
Australia’s best political slogan was coined in 1980 by Don Chipp, founder of the Australian Democrats, to describe his party’s aim to be a powerbroker in the Senate. The bastards he referred to were the politicians of the major parties; Chipp himself had been one of them. The Democrats are a spent force today but the slogan is still alive and kicking.
‘An endlessly renewable resource.’
The Treasurer is using magic pudding politics to pretend we can fund the policy without new taxes.
A connection between political promises and stories for children may not seem far-fetched to jaundiced voters, and it is realised in the term ‘magic pudding’. The Magic Pudding (published 1918) is a children’s book by artist Norman Lindsay, in which a pudding instantly renews itself as slices are cut out of it. In recent times many politicians have been accused of attempting to deceive the public by conjuring a magic pudding, especially around Budget time.
‘In figurative use, to challenge or confront a person.’
I’m going to shirt-front Mr Putin. You bet you are, you bet I am.
In 2014 Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine with the loss of all on board, including 38 Australians. The widespread belief that it was shot down by Russian-backed separatists meant that diplomatic relations with Russia were strained before world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, met in Brisbane for the G20 later that year. Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed he would shirt-front Putin when they met, employing a term more often used in the context of an Australian Rules football match (e.g. he shirt-fronted two players within seconds, leaving both lying on the ground). The comment made international news, prompting a Russian official to imply that Putin, a judo expert, knew more about hand-to-hand combat than Abbott, a keen cyclist. In the event, no blows were traded when the two met.
‘An election campaign trail pursued by leaders of the National Party. ’
On the wombat trail, the Nationals leader was discussing dung beetles and agriculture policy at the Oodnadatta Field Day.
The National Party is the party of rural and regional Australia, broadly described as the bush. During elections the leader traditionally campaigns across a vast area to reach voters in remote places: beyond the black stump, back of Bourke, and behind the sunset. The trek is called the wombat trail in honour of its rural setting – National Party leaders have their electorates in the bush, a wombat’s natural habitat.