Boondoggles, bellwethers and poli-tic-al parasites: revisiting political expressions

Kate Burridge and co-authored with Howard Manns

We started our election pieces by introducing some ordinary political expressions — those with not so ordinary histories. We felt it was time to revisit political expressions, with an eye to those that have come up this year, but also those we missed out on the first time!

The late Australian journo Paul Lyneham defined election campaigns as:

… a frantic attempt to inspire the apathetic with the implausible … a high-budget, low-quality soapie … in which leading pollies show their immense respect for voters by a combination of bribes and TV stunts.

Let’s see how these bribes and TV stunts are working out for those pollies, or rather, what kind of language comes up in the final throes of a campaign.

Astroturfing and boondoggling the pork barrels

The word astroturfing has come up a few times this election and it’s becoming a common election strategy. This one is a spin-off metaphor on the grass roots campaign, in other words, one that is organised by common “rank-and-file” supporters.

In contrast, astroturfing, named after synthetic grass, is one in which vested political interests (like political think-tanks, and corporations) are pulling the strings and/or funding a campaign meant to seem grass roots.

Cries of astroturfing emerged quite early in this campaign (or even a few weeks before), in reference to the findings of the Institute of Public Affairs vis-à-vis the “road safety tribunal”. That said, astroturfing is regulated in Australia and takes place more in American elections (for example Super PACs, the American Tea Party).

That said, as an aside, it’s worth remembering that movements like the Tea Party are in no way new to politics. There was an American political party in the mid-19th century known as the Know-Nothings. The party originally garnered this label because of its secretive nature and the answer its members would give when asked about its existence.

However, this Know Nothing moniker became a mantra representing the party’s political beliefs and their members came to respond to political questions with the answer:

I know nothing in our principles contrary to the Constitution.

Back to this year’s campaign, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s also been a lot of pork-barrelling. We covered pork-barrelling in our first piece but there’s an amazing variety of words that come up in relation to pork-barrelling over the campaign.

For instance, boondoggle has been making regular appearances during this year’s election campaign — recent suggested boondoggles include Malcolm Turnbull’s high-speed rail project and Bill Shorten’s sporting stadium.

Now, Australians generally enjoy railing against the invasion of American English expressions, and yet occasionally terms like boondoggle sneak under the radar without comment. It’s not surprising really – boondoggling is a glorious way to describe wasteful politically motivated expenditure. Besides, it has its origin (1920s) in the Boy Scouts’ braided lanyard (for hanging things like whistles). The inspiration was surely those other -oggle scout accessories – the woggle and toggle (perhaps even a dash of the carpentry joggle).

One American expression we’d like to see taken up is logrolling “mutual assistance in political or other action” — a kind of quid pro quo (you roll my log and I’ll roll yours). It started life being very positive, capturing the cooperation between neighbours in helping each other to move logs (rather like barn-raising). But like so many terms, once they hit the political arena they take a nasty turn for the worse.

Following the bellwether Left or Right

It’s getting to crunch time, and much is being made of bellwethers. A bellwether leads or indicates a trend, and in politics refers to regions whose political tendencies match those of a wider area and therefore might be used to predict the winner on election night. The division of Eden-Monaro in the south-east corner of NSW is considered a bellwether seat.

The original bellwether in the 1400s was the leading sheep of a flock, the wether in this case being the castrated ram around whose neck a bell was hung. So the original bellwether was egregious in the earliest sense of the word — it stood out from the grex (or flock).

But it wasn’t long before bellwether was applied contemptuously to people (and it must have been rude because it appears in Captain Francis Grose’s (1785) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, where it’s described as “the chief or leader of a mob”.

In any case, tracing the origins of bellwether, we’re left with a not-so-flattering description of voters as sheep.

We sheep spend our days (well, when not ignoring the campaign) wondering whether the bellwether will swing Left or Right. Much has been written about the origins of these terms in politics.

However, it’s worth noting, beyond politics, that the words left and right hint back to views of our body and how we viewed those who were right- or left-handed.

The left side of our body has typically been viewed as evil and an ill-omen. This leads languages to adopt various linguistic coping strategies if you will.

The word probably has its origins in Old English lyft, a word meaning “silly” or “foolish”. We didn’t use it as the complement for right until the 13th century. Until that point, we sheltered behind a euphemistic word winestra (literally “friendlier”) to placate the evil forces. The equivalent Latin word was sinister, which has obvious modern links. And speaking of those links …

Which bloodsucker shall steer our ship?

Pollies engage in boondoggles, astroturfing and logrolling to see who will get to ‘steer the ship’, as the political cliché for governing goes. It’s a political cliché that is not unfounded with the distant ancestor of the word govern being the Greek word kubernan (“steer a ship”).

Politics is a dirty business and those who engage in it can be sinister. The word politician is one that has had a fairly rocky history itself. The earliest sense around in the 1500s was overwhelmingly negative. Here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it:

Politician: A schemer or plotter; a shrewd, sagacious, or crafty person.

This negative account grew out of earliest senses of politic (with reference to government); that saw a rapid decline from “prudent, sagacious” to “scheming, conniving”.

It’s not a surprising development. In fact, it’s a linguistic double-whammy effect really. Words to do with intelligence typically acquire overtones of deceitfulness (crafty, cunning and artful have gone the same way) and, as we described in our earlier piece, expressions relating to government typically deteriorate with time.

A couple of centuries later, Samuel Johnson in his 1755 dictionary defines politician quite straightforwardly as “a man of artifice; one of deep contrivance”.

It wasn’t until considerably later, some time during the 19th century, that the word clambered out of the semantic abyss to take on a more neutral sense, the idea simply of “one engaged in political life; in conducting the business of the state”.

But the “semantic halo” (to use novelist C.S. Lewis’ term) around politician was never a comfortable fit — the negative senses never really left, and most current dictionaries embrace both senses.

But neutral and negative meanings are rarely happy bedfellows — derogatory senses usually end up grabbing more of the doona. And if the contributions to Urban Dictionary are anything to go by, politician is no exception — all 63 definitions are overwhelmingly disparaging. We leave you with the first of its definitions:

  1. A person who practices politics. “Politics” is derived from the words “poly” meaning “many”, and “tics” meaning “blood-sucking parasites”.

In sum, Lyneham defines vote as the apathetic being:

… forced to choose between the mob screwing them now and the mob who screwed them last time.

Good luck with yours.The Conversation

Kate Burridge is a Professor of Linguistics and Howard Manns is a Lecturer in Linguistics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Witless white noise, virulent ugliness: Brexit debate plays out its last scenes

Remy Davison, Monash University

Mass politics versus elite interests. Mad dogs and Englishmen. That’s the Brexit referendum in a nutshell.

Make no mistake: this is an internecine struggle between political elites. Brexiters such as Boris Johnson, and UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader, Nigel Farage, paint the European Union (EU) as a remote, authoritarian entity, staffed by automatons in Brussels, bent upon the destruction of the last vestiges of British sovereignty and independence.

The Remain camp is also brimming with elites. But it is also an uneasy and awkward alliance of moderate Tories, Euro-enthusiast Lib Dems and the reluctant Labour Left. Awkward because Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and the David Cameron Conservative Party are unnatural bedfellows. Uneasy because Corbyn Labour does not particularly want to be aligned with the 1,280 business leaders who have backed the Remain campaign in an open letter.

The Guardian’s Paul Mason was right to call out the establishment credentials of the Brexiters. The Leave campaign represents an audacious attempt by elite political figures to stage a Europhobe coup in British politics, mobilising working-class voters, football hooligans, vengeful UKIPers and elderly Little Englanders – anyone, in fact, who may be suffering from relative deprivation, an irrational dislike of immigrants, or a general distrust of anything Continental.

But the debate has been sterile and, at times, asinine. Brexiters, like former Education Secretary Michael Gove, have compared Remain economists to Nazi scientists condemning Einstein. Boris Johnson has claimed the EU wants to build a “superstate” like Hitler.

Interspersed among the generally witless white noise of the Brexit debate, the death of Labour MP Jo Cox last week demonstrated how virulently ugly the campaign had become.

How did it come to this? The answer lies in the troubled affair Britain has had with Brussels for over 40 years.

Something rotten in the kingdom of Belgium

In 1999, Britain did not join the Eurozone. But London did. The City does 75% of all Eurobond business, while more than 50% of all euro-denominated transactions take place inside the square mile, dwarfing the combined euro business of the Paris and Frankfurt bourses. “We did not create the euro,” a French former finance minister said bitterly – and privately – “so that Britain could make the majority of profits from it.”

That is why the EU’s proposals in 2011 to pursue both a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) and a Fiscal Compact generated so much anger from David Cameron. The FTT was the tinderbox that generated an inferno in the Conservative Party, forcing Cameron to confront the issue directly. In 2013, he made a Commons speech that committed him to an In/Out referendum by 2017.

Cameron had sought to manage an internal party disciplinary problem by externalising the issue and proclaiming the EU was the problem. In late 2012, the UK only narrowly avoided a triple-dip recession. Cameron’s premiership was under threat from Euro-phobe Tories.

25 years ago, it was the pro-European Tory wing that had toppled the seemingly-invincible Margaret Thatcher in 1990 whose final act – to join the EU’s Exchange-Rate Mechanism – led to the humiliating collapse of the pound in September 1992. Thatcher gave in to the Europhiles to appease them in the vain hope of saving her premiership. Cameron, confronted with precisely the opposite problem, was not about to make the same mistake. Instead, the Prime Minister confronted his own critics head on, promising a hard-headed deal with Brussels, while ensuring Britain retained EU membership.

In February, Cameron got his deal. Britain would not be compelled to join the Eurozone; restrictions were placed upon migrants’ and their children’s benefits as well; Britain was excluded specifically from any plans for a pan-European political confederation; and a non-discrimination clause was secured for the City of London and British business. The latter was the most important; EU regulatory legislation could not discriminate against UK firms, forcing them to relocate to the continent.

A frequent Brexit claim is that Britain is suffocated by Brussels’ draconian regulations. But the UK pushes well over 90% of the legislation it wants through the Council of Ministers, the EU’s intergovernmental executive. It can also draw a red line under any offensive legislation by employing its national veto, which it has used or threatened to use on many occasions, thus extinguishing legislation that British governments refuse to accept. However, like all international politics, the legislation that does emerge is always the result of compromise.

A comedy of errors

Since 1975, the British Labour Party has never been entirely convincing in its Europhoria. Prime Minister Harold Wilson set the precedent with the first EU stay/leave referendum. Although Wilson had opposed the terms upon which his predecessor, Edward Heath, negotiated to accede to the EU, the Labour Party supported EU membership nonetheless. The voters agreed, with an overwhelming 67% backing Britain to remain in Europe.

But Labour’s dalliance with departure didn’t end there. In 1983, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Jeremy Corbyn were all freshly-minted members of the House of Commons. During the “Falklands election”, each of them signed Labour’s election manifesto, known as “the longest suicide note ever written.” In this infamous tome, Labour committed to a phased withdrawal from the EU “within 10 years.” Thirty years later, all three men have led the Labour Party. None was a Euro-enthusiast, despite protestations to the contrary.

In 1997, Tony Blair promised a referendum on Britain joining the Eurozone; the referendum never happened. Ironically, it is David Cameron who secured a deal in February 2016 with the EU guaranteeing that the UK would never be compelled to join the euro, thus accomplishing at a stroke what British Labour long promised, but could never quite compel itself to do.

Corbyn has mounted a Remain campaign, arguing that Britain can only reform the EU from the inside. But as Farage and Johnson successfully usurp Labour’s working-class base, Corbyn looks, at best, like a reluctant European.

Corbyn and Labour’s own ambiguous and awkward relationship with Europe over 40 years has led to this perception problem. Corbyn should have talked up the EU Social Chapter, the document that John Major steadfastly refused to sign. Instead, Major introduced the Deregulation Act in 1994, making Britain the most deregulated labour market in Europe. Once in office, Tony Blair immediately signed the Social Chapter, introducing a host of rights for British workers, including paid maternity and paternity leave. Two million British workers gained a minimum annual paid holiday leave.

Brexit, stage right

What would impact would a Brexit have on the UK economy? The UK-EU two-way trade totals over £500 billion per annum, comprising £227 billion in exports and £288 billion in imports from EU, with a total trade deficit of £61 billion, The deficit is not surprising, given the significant productive inputs going into the UK’s manufacturing sector.

Britain and Germany are Europe’s two biggest economic partners, with 10% of all UK exports going to Germany, with close to 15% of British exports coming from Germany. Over 50% of all UK traded goods exports go to the EU, with 44% of goods and services exports in total.

Much has been made of the UK’s contribution to the EU General Budget, comprising a gross figure of £12.9 billion per annum. However, after rebates (which cannot be altered without UK approval), the net British contribution to the EU is £6.4 billion, making the UK the fourth-largest net contributor, behind Germany, France and Italy under the 2013–19 General Budget formulation. Approximately £1 billion of Britain’s net contribution is spent on foreign aid; the EU is the world’s largest aid donor.

As the referendum has drawn closer, global markets have become gone from sanguine to jittery, despite the fact that if Brexit were to occur, it would take at least two years to negotiate.

Warnings of a sterling collapse and recession have led investors to fly for safety. The Eurozone has not been immune to fear contagion, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi reassuring markets that the ECB was prepared to step in and calm markets, if necessary.

Back in November 2015, Wolf Richter argued that Brexit would be a ‘non-event’; the UK could simply join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland and gain free trade access to the EU. After all, the UK founded EFTA in 1959.

Except that Richter is wrong. EFTA membership does not grant FTA access to Europe. The EFTA countries are integrated with the EU Single Market through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement of 1994. Switzerland rejected the EEA and, instead, signed a number of bilateral treaties with the EU. That is because Switzerland is a central pillar of the French, German, Austrian, Dutch and Scandinavian financial services sector and could not be excluded from the EU’s integrated banking and finance markets.

Brexit would also remove Britain from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the US-EU mega-regional FTA currently under negotiation. Britain would be forced to negotiate, from scratch, FTAs with the US (Obama has claimed London would go to the back of the queue) and, possibly, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Let’s not forget Britain imports most of its food. For Britain to negotiate FTAs with key Commonwealth countries would virtually restore the 1932–72 Imperial System of Preferences.

Meanwhile, don’t imagine Australia would be unaffected by Brexit. Britain has almost $AU500 billion in direct and portfolio investment in Australia, second only to the US. Domestic economic instability would cause at least some UK investors to repatriate a proportion of their foreign investments, as domestic financial instability typically reduced liquidity and prompts investor retrenchment.

More than 2,000 UK firms operate subsidiaries in Australia. The British pharmaceutical industry also has a significant presence in Australia, alongside firms such as British Aerospace

To be or not to be in Europe?

Britain doubled the value of its automotive exports between 2003 and 2013. By 2014, the UK car industry was chalking up £25 billion in exports per annum. As of 2016, 57% of these exports go to the EU. In 2015, from a total production volume of 1.58 million vehicles, 77% of all British-manufactured cars were exported.

UK manufactured exports are now only 6.5% of GDP, versus the financial services sector’s approximately 12% in exports. But the British government wants to protect, more than anything, is its financial services sector.

The City financial system’s annual turnover is over 10 times the size of the UK’s $US2.99 trillion GDP (not a misprint). New York and Tokyo are mere pygmies by comparison. The City alone produces over $US560 billion in GDP, or around 19% of UK GDP. If the City were a country, it would be the 21st-largest economy in the world.

But the financial sector alone employs relatively few workers. There has been no convincing economic modelling that suggests anything but a fall in UK GDP and a consequential reduction in Treasury revenues, if Brexit occurs, thus opening the door to a severe economic contraction, at the very least.

The Scottish play

It’s barely two years since Scottish voters elected to remain within the United Kingdom. If Britain left the EU, this would likely compel the Scots to hold another referendum on withdrawing.

In the interim, Scotland would need to negotiate its own terms with the EU to ensure membership of an independent Scotland. There would also be serious questions about the division of maritime Exclusive Economic Zones, fishing rights and North Sea oil ownership. In addition, the prospect of Scottish independence from the UK would also be a disastrous scenario for the British Labour Party.

Why Britain won’t Brexit

The Leave/Remain referendum is not legally binding upon Cameron’s government; it is merely advisory as far as Parliament is concerned.

More importantly, Britain gave up its market sovereignty decades ago. More than 100,000 pieces of legislation make up Britain’s integration with the EU Single Internal Market (SIM). The SIM governs competition; public procurement; banking; finance; anti-trust; trade practices; technical, fiscal and physical barriers to trade; food and product labelling standards, and a whole host of other market issues.

In order to undo this melange of market rules would be akin to unscrambling an egg. To do so would occupy every waking hour the House of Commons possesses for the foreseeable future, merely to amend or repeal SIM legislation. But why would Britain want to revoke all the SIM compliance with the legislation it currently has in place?

But nothing can be certain where referenda are concerned. They involve what politicians fear most: democracy. Referenda ask voters to make decisive political choices; and they are inherently risky.The Conversation

Remy Davison is the Jean Monnet Chair in Politics and Economics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The fossil-fuelled political economy of Australian elections

David Holmes, Monash University

The endorsement for coal mining from the Labor-Coalition duopoly that the election campaign has seen in the last week makes the token appeals that have been made about tackling climate change even more disingenuous.

In this election campaign, the major parties have only brought up climate change when they have been pressed to do so at public forums, like leaders’ debates, the ABC’s Q&A, or when they treat social media as something that needs to be quelled.

The Coalition’s response is simply to say that Australia participated in the Paris agreement, and that is good enough. Labor, on the other hand, points to having outbid the Coalition on targets. Yet neither party is planning to deliver the cuts needed for Australia to play its part in keeping global warming below the 2℃ threshold.

Which leads us back to a question I will deal with at the end of this article: if polls are consistently showing that Australian voters want climate change on the election agenda, why are the leaders keeping so quiet about it?

Neither party is shy of talking up coal, however. Bill Shorten declared last week that a Labor government would not ban coal mining – and that it would be part of Australia’s energy needs for the foreseeable future.

But then on Tuesday, Attorney-General George Brandis, campaigning for Queensland’s most marginal seat of Capricornia, put in one of the pluckiest coal-selling performances of the campaign. He cited the gigantic Adani mine in central Queensland a saviour for the electorate.

We know that Adani, the massive Indian coal company, wants to develop the Carmichael mine, which according to some estimates could generate up to 10,000 jobs. And people in Rockhampton know that and they know that the Greens are doing everything they possibly can to prevent the development of the Adani mine.

They see their future prosperity as being bound up in the development of the Adani mine, and they know that if there were to be a Labor-Greens government, that would be the end of the Adani mine, that would be the end of coal mining in central Queensland, and that would be the end of their best shot at economic prosperity in the future.

But what doesn’t add up here is that around the world, coal is in terminal decline, while the future for renewables is looking very bright and secure.

Just to the north, the federal government has quarantined A$1 billion from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for projects to “save” the Great Barrier Reef. But this money is demonstrably not going to create any jobs that are relevant to Capricornia. Apparently pork-barrelling is not needed in Capricornia, as the promise of coal is a ready replacement.

But the largest contradiction of all is the complete illogicality of claiming (even if without foundation) to save the reef and solve climate change in one Queensland electorate, while proposing to unleash one of the largest deposits of CO₂ to the world’s atmosphere from the electorate next door.

It is worth heeding’s Bill McKibben’s warning that if all the coal in the Galilee Basin, of which the Adani mine holds one of the largest deposits, is exported for burning, it would use up 30% of the world’s carbon budget. 100% of the budget gets you 2℃.

And new climate research looking at the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃, suggests the latter will make what we experience at the upper limits of present-day climate variability the new normal around the globe, and worse closer to the equator.

The influence of the mining and energy industry on election campaigns

This leads us to ask serious questions about the influence that mining and energy companies have on major political parties during election campaigns.

There is some variation in which particular mining companies are favoured by particular parties. Labor is certainly not as keen on Adani as the Coalition is. But, in general, the support for fossil-fuel industries is part of the DNA of the major parties today.

It is well known there is a perpetually revolving door between mining/energy companies and politicians/staffers from the major parties.

Take the Labor Party. When Labor lost the last election, Martin Ferguson, Craig Emerson and Greg Combet either took up management jobs with mining and energy companies and associations or worked as consultants for them.

Combet, a former climate change minister, took up consultancies for coal seam gas companies AGL and Santos. Ferguson, resources minister during Labor’s last term of office, landed the position as chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s advisory committee only six months after leaving politics.

With the Coalition, former National Party leader Mark Vaile is chairman of Whitehaven Coal, the company at the centre of protest and controversy at the Maules Creek mine. Another former National Party leader, John Anderson, became chairman of Eastern Star Gas only two years after quitting Canberra.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Anne Davies last year found a complex web of interlocking networks of influence that tied together NSW Premier Mike Baird’s office, then-prime minister Tony Abbott’s office, and energy and mining companies including AGL and Santos.

At times, these companies brought together high-profile Liberal and Labor politicians. Santos engaged a lobbying company, Bespoke Approach, which listed former Labor senator Nick Bolkus and former Liberal South Australian premier John Olson as directors.

AGL lays claim to the same cross-party alliance between former Labor minister John Dawkins and former Liberal senator Helen Coonan, who co-chair lobbying firm GRA Cosway.

But what is less-well-known is the degree to which mining and energy companies have enticed media advisors from the major parties to walk through that revolving door. Davies included an interactive graphic in her report that shows the rotation of media people between Canberra, mining and energy companies, and state politics.

Understanding the rotation of media advisors does not just open up the question of lobbying – it also explains how governments may feel obliged to legitimate their support for fossil fuel.

Such staffers are a real prize for the companies. They give them access to the media strategies of government departments, which may translate into real influence about the kind of messages that might be most favourable to their company’s operations.

Carbon-laced political donations

It is now a matter of public record that fossil-fuel interests have bankrolled climate denialism around the world for decades. The case of the collapsing edifice of Peabody Energy, once the world’s largest coal company, is a paradigm example of this. Fossil-fuel companies even sponsored the Paris climate summit.

But can the donations of fossil-fuel companies also influence election campaigns? Well, yes they can, but we won’t find out who and how this might be happening until after the election.

A recent Four Corners program delved into the lack of transparency of Australia’s donation process. For example, knowledge of who is funding the parties in this election campaign won’t be revealed until the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) releases its data in February next year.

But we do know from the last election campaign that mining and energy companies loomed large as donors for both Labor and Liberal parties. The AEC’s data release from February 2014 showed the Liberal Party received more than $1.8 million directly from energy companies that supported the repeal of an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

Even more was donated via the Liberal-linked Cormack Foundation. Two of the biggest “receipts” to the Cormack Foundation were BHP and Rio Tinto.

Labor received only $453,000 from mining and energy companies in the context of the immense industry opposition to an emissions trading scheme.

Speculating on 2016 party donations

The 2013 election was all about mining and energy companies donating in return for killing the carbon tax. This has now been completed. Job done, time to move on.

With the carbon tax gone, and millions in corporate welfare flowing directly to the mining and energy companies from taxpayers, all that the PR departments of these companies would be worried about is that climate change is kept off the election agenda.

Such an environment would suit the fossil-fuel industries as they fight for a few more years of viability in a world that is abandoning them. As constitutional lawyer George Williams has observedof all forms of corporate donations:

These companies are hoping that giving money will lead to outcomes. That’s why they’re doing it, and that’s one of the key problems of the current system.

So, here is a hypothetical PR strategy that would make perfect sense for the mining and energy sectors in this election, in eight easy steps.

Step One: Mining and Energy companies donate to major political parties with a request to drop climate change from their campaigns.

Step Two: Major political parties agree not to run on a climate platform and continue to heavily subsidise the operations of mining companies.

Step Three: Parties use money for broadcast and newspaper campaign budgets.

Step Four: Newspapers and TV and radio outlets sell the attention spans of audiences to the advertisers of political parties for large sums.

Step Five: Major parties expect that audiences will be persuaded to vote for one of them, while fossil-fuel company donations are justified by backing both possible winners who will look after their interests. The investment would only fail if one of the parties had to share power with minor parties or independents.

Step Six: Major parties continue to support coal and energy companies, offering them mining exploration licences, mining leases and export licences.

Step Seven: A part of the donations that energy companies give to parties is paid by consumers of increased electricity prices as well as taxpayers who are subsidising the corporate welfare that goes to these companies.

Step Eight: With favourable regulatory conditions for mining and electricity generation, mining and energy companies have greater certainty with which to expand their investments, operations and profits – some of which can be injected back into the political process at election time.

To the extent that this hypothesis is proven to be correct, and repeats the processes at play in the 2013 election, what emerges is that although Australia enjoys the free speech of a multi-party democracy, discussion of climate change is not free from the influence of capital in the election process.

To the extent that the major donors to Labor and Coalition are dominated by mining and energy, it is in the interests of this industry to finance a political duopoly that encourages the closure of public debates that do not conform to its interests.

The winners in this process can be identified as a media-political-industrial complex. This complex is a kind of three-way protectorate, where each group looks after itself by looking after the other two.

Broadcasters and newspapers are winners as they generate large revenues at election time that is channelled to them by political parties from the donors.

Mining and energy companies are winners, as they are able to distract voters from climate change and reduce pressure on parties to decarbonise the economy and regulate against their activities.

The parties are winners as they only need to neglect climate change in return for millions of dollars in donations to their election campaigns.

The losers are the voters, who are not only forced to subsidise the political conditions that make their per-capita emissions four times higher than the global average, but also subsidise the conditions in which climate is taken off the public agenda.

The biggest losers are our grandchildren, who are going to inherit the climate mess created by the manipulative, influence-peddling mediocrity that plays out over three-year election cycles – and not just in Australia.The Conversation

David Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Both parties to launch in western Sydney, the symbolic heartland of uncommitted but powerful voters

by Nick Economou

Election campaigns are full of metaphors and symbols, and one of the most enduring in Australian politics is the idea of “western Sydney”. To a non-resident of Australia’s largest city, western Sydney conjures up notions of endless suburbs interspersed with shopping precincts, the ubiquitous leagues clubs and a variety of footballing clubs using the term in their nomenclature.

There is also a sense that the area is full of marginal seats, and this is one of the reasons why both major parties commit so much time and energy to campaigning there.

Interestingly, the number of marginal districts in what might be termed western Sydney is not particularly large. On the basis of the result in 2013, they are evenly spread between Labor and Liberal. Of the Coalition seats held after the 2013 election, 27 (or 29%) are in New South Wales, while Labor holds 12 seats in NSW (or 20% of its total seats). Of the Coalition’s NSW seats, nine are ultra-marginal (margins of 5% or less). Labor has eight NSW seats among its ultra-marginals.

These figures have been affected by a recent redistribution in which two Liberal-held seats are now notionally Labor. One of these is Parramatta – clearly a part of western Sydney. The other is Dobell, and reminds us that the major parties also have vulnerable seats in the growing conurbation between Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

So, the significance of western Sydney resonates not only in terms of the actual number of marginal seats (for the Liberals, Macquarie, Lindsay, Macarthur and Banks, and for Labor, Greenway and Parramatta), but also for the type of constituent found in these seats.

To be seen to be appealing to “western Sydney” is shorthand for saying that the party is serious about winning over people who are trying to buy property in the suburbs. They are voters who are concerned about the state of the economy and who depend on the provision of state services such as health and education, but who are also convinced about the need for strong border protection. They also may be socially quite conservative.

The voter in western Sydney could just as easily be the swinging voter of outer south-eastern Melbourne or any one of the regional seats that figure as ultra-marginal. These are the voters parties need to win over to form government.

As much as it might offend federalist sensibilities across the nation, holding the official party launch in western Sydney – as Labor will on Sunday and the Liberals will next weekend – makes a great deal of sense.

At one level, launching in western Sydney symbolises the party’s commitment to the concerns assumed to be held by the swinging voter. And that remains true even if, as in Labor’s case, half the partisan vote and a fair swag of party members reject conservative approaches to immigration, same-sex marriage and what to do with refugees.

Labor will be hoping the symbolism of the launch locale might mitigate a creeping suspicion that the party leadership is struggling to contain the party’s left wing on some of these matters.

More broadly, it’s also true that the party that wins “western Sydney” – in its greater expanse – will win the election. In addition to its dominance in terms of population, Sydney is the economic centre of the country. It is also the centre of the nation’s media, with the most important of the nation’s public and private media organisations being headquartered there.

The only rival to its pre-eminence is Melbourne, and apart from being of secondary importance in all of these categories bar the fact that Labor leader Bill Shorten hails from there, Victoria has relatively few marginal seats. Two of these – Melbourne and Batman – only figure because of the rise of the Greens.

In terms of symbolism, the sort of realigning voter you find in Melbourne is the antithesis of the archetypal swinging voter found in the rest of the country for whom the “western Sydney” cohort is a metaphor. No wonder the major parties are launching in western Sydney.The Conversation

Nick Economou is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Border Observatory research contributes to RN program on remittances

Fluid Security coverFindings from the Samoa case study that formed part of the Fluid Security in the Asia Pacific project featured recently in a program on the benefits and drawbacks of remittances that was broadcast on Radio National’s ‘The Money’. The program, presented by host Richard Aedy and producer Fiona Pepper, gave an overview of the extent, purpose and mechanics of remittances that flow primarily between developed and less developed countries. Within our region, Samoa was identified as a country that has a particular reliance on remittances for its GDP.

BOb’s Associate Professor Leanne Weber was able to contribute background information for the segment on Samoa, citing evidence from interviews conducted for the Fluid Security project with Samoan-born New Zealand citizens living in Australia. She noted that most research participants confirmed a strong cultural commitment to sending remittances, but reported struggling at times to provide the amounts that were required for family, church and ceremonial purposes. The sending of remittances appeared to be rooted in a cultural history of transnationalism, and Leanne argued that the value to individuals of meeting their cultural obligations should be viewed alongside purely financial considerations in any assessment of the costs and benefits of the remittance system.

One aspect of the findings which did not make it into the final program is the observation that ‘reverse remittances’ were starting to flow from Samoa to family members in New Zealand and Australia who were experiencing financial hardship. The study found that the restrictive visa conditions imposed on New Zealand citizens living long-term in Australia contribute to these economic pressures.

The full podcast of the program and an online story about remittances in Samoa can be found here.  

The complete findings from the Fluid Security in the Asia Pacific project have been published in Tazreiter, C, Weber L, Pickering, S, Segrave, M and McKernan, H (2016) Fluid Security in the Asia Pacific: Transnational Lives, Human Rights and State Control (Palgrave).


Mental health issues tackled with new online resource

Associate Professor Renata Kokanovic
Associate Professor Renata Kokanovic

The first research-based online resource in Australia to present the lived experiences of people diagnosed with severe mental health problems was launched on 16 June by the Hon Steve Dimopoulos MP, State Member for Oakleigh, and Chair of the Mental Health Expert Taskforce. 

The Monash University-led, multi-media resource presents the experiences of people living with severe mental health problems and the experiences offamily carers. Supporting people experiencing severe mental health problems, changing community attitudes towards mental health and mental illnesses and informing healthcare practitioners and policy makers are key goals. The resource also aims to contribute to improving services, reflecting obligations under international human rights law to provide access by people with disabilities to the support they may require in making decisions about their healthcare and other aspects of their lives. Recent laws such as Victoria’s Mental Health Act 2014, also now recognise that those receiving mental health services should be involved in all decisions about their assessment, treatment and recovery.

Based on a three-year study, the resource features filmed and audio-recorded interviews with 60 people from urban and regional Victoria. The desire for clearer communication about diagnoses and medication and the importance of welcoming environments and good quality relationships for supporting decision making featured as clear themes in many of the interviews.

Associate Professor Renata Kokanovic of Monash University, who led the research, said the online resource provides a forum unique in Australia for assisting members of the general public, mental health professionals and policy makers to gain an understanding of what it really means to support the decision making of people experiencing severe mental illnesses and their family carers.

“Many people talked about their experiences of using mental health services, the challenges they faced around making treatment and life decisions, and personal recovery. Giving space for people to tell their stories and listening to other people’s stories can help empower people diagnosed with severe mental health problems and family carers. We hope this research contributes to reducing the anxiety and social isolation that people diagnosed with mental illness and their carers often feel,” Associate Professor Kokanovic said.

“Raising awareness that responsibility lies with the community as a whole and ensuring governments move appropriately towards meeting international legal obligations is critical for safeguarding the rights of people diagnosed with mental illness.”

The online resource on lived experiences of people diagnosed with severe mental health problems and family carers is now live and accessible to the public.

Professor Helen Herrman from Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and The University of Melbourne, and President Elect of the World Psychiatric Association described this as an invaluable resource. 

“It raises community and professional awareness of the common ground and the human dignity and respect at the heart of all decision making for people living with mental ill health and their families,” Professor Herrman said.

Indigo Daya, Melbourne-based mental health consumer writer and speaker, said she had hope for the way the online resource could be used by people affected by mental health problems to enhance their lives, and by mental health practitioners to enhance their practice. 

“If you’re someone who has your own experience of mental health problems, this is a space where you can explore other ways that people have made their own decisions and faced their own challenges in expressing their decisions or having them honoured. If you work in mental health, this is a space where you can reflect on your practice and ways that you can bring about change,” Ms Daya said.

The research was funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage Project), and supported through partnership with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Mind Australia, Neami National, Well Ways (formerly Mental Illness) Fellowship of Victoria, Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC) and Tandem Carers. Healthdirect Australia supported the production of the online resource, which forms part of Healthtalk Australia, an emerging online resource for personal health and illness experiences of Australians across a range of health and related conditions.


Hustings and human speech (failings) in a 24/7 campaign

Kate Burridge, Monash University

Co-authored with Howard Manns

Lengthy elections grow tedious for everyone and, in the 24/7 media cycle, nerves and performances fray.

Yet how many of us would really stand up to such intense and prolonged linguistic scrutiny, especially in this all-digital-all-the-time age of social media and news services that never sleep?

We thought it’d be a useful point in the election to cut the pollies some slack and highlight some of the complexities of human language. Most of us would be apt to commit the odd “tingue-slop” under the hot lamps of 24/7 scrutiny!

Everybody’s tingue slops

It’s natural to care deeply about language, but never lose sight of the realities of ordinary language production. From doorstop interviews to TV interviews to YouTube to debates, speaking is cognitively demanding, and everyone at some time slips up and accidentally lets the wrong word through.

Slips of the tongue tell us as much about the way people process language as their intelligence or capabilities as speakers. To these ends, it’s entirely human for a politician to say something like “suppository of all wisdom” when in fact he was looking for a “repository” (though this is more a slip of the brain than a slip of the tongue – while accessing his mental dictionary, something went wrong with the selection process).

What’s changed is the speed and ease at which such utterances reach us for derision and critique. In contrast, when one of the writers of this piece uttered “Piddle Dutch” rather than “Middle Dutch” during a first-year lecture, no-one cared two hoots.

Then why do we care? Well, there is the possibility that the politician doesn’t know the meaning of a word, or a slip-up might reveal what a pollie actually feels (beneath the polished texts of his or her PR machine).

So, for instance, we might be kind to George W Bush when he says “misunderestimate”, but are we really “misunderestimating” him alongside his other gaffes? In the 2012, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed regret at the shootings at a sheikh temple, when the shootings took place at a Sikh temple. Slip or ignorance?

And in 2004, BBC presenter James Naughtie introduced Conservative politician Jeremy Hunt, who was serving as culture secretary at the time, as Jeremy Cunt. Another innocent word-selection error? Or Auntie getting a jab in?

It can be difficult to tell, but it’s worth noting that these kinds of slip-ups are entirely natural and bound to happen under the lens of the 24/7 media cycle.

Beware the smooth talker, but welcome the ‘simple’ one

In judging political language, it’s also worth noting, in the words of REM singer Michael Stipe, “what we want and what we need has been confused”.

First, we decry pollies’ use of simpler language as endemic of a decline in intelligent discourse. So, for instance, when it was found Donald Drumpf was speaking at a fourth-grade level, it fed into the narrative of the dumbing down of America.

While politically, Uncle Sam’s house may be burning, Drumpf is doing exactly what science (and George Orwell) tell us pollies should do – longer sentences and complex words take longer for the average political audience to process.

Second, people today are fed on a diet of the beautifully choreographed linguistic performances of TV and film (particularly those political and courtroom dramas), and this has fed into our growing impatience with non-fluency – repetitions, hesitations and what appear to be empty fillers like umm and err.

However, speech lacking these features is probably well-rehearsed, certainly pre-planned, or is simply a matter of stringing together some pretty well-worn and formulaic expressions. In short, speech lacking these forms hint at a smooth-talking pollie. Jobs and growth, anyone?

Yet lest we judge jobs and growth too harshly, we should remember that repetition is an essential quality of human language. It turns out that the frequency of fixed expressions generally in language is remarkable. One researcher working on a UK-based corpus of spoken language calculated that 70% of the running words formed part of recurrent word combinations of some kind. These word combinations were even more common in popular television programs.

It seems none of us comes up with anything terribly new.

‘Black pudding being fed through a mincer’

We’re also perhaps a bit too harsh on our pollies’ ways of speaking.

In this election, among other observations, we’re drawn to Turnbull’s pronunciation of words like “ensure” (“lingering extravagantly over the ‘sh’”) and Shorten’s pronunciation of words like “with” (as “wiv”).

Such observations are common in elections but rose to particular prominence in 2010. Julia Gillard’s accent was one that was analysed within an inch of its life — and comments were overwhelmingly disparaging (“horrible”, “atrocious”, “excruciating”, “manufactured”, “fake”, “painful–almost fingernails on a blackboard”).

Gillard’s voice quality was likened to cheese graters, metronomes and meat grinders (for example, “with all the charm, variation and responsiveness of black pudding being fed through a mincer”). It’s all remarkably out of whack for an era that professes equality for all and a desire not to offend.

Some claimed Gillard’s accent was evidence she’d had voice training; others claimed it was evidence that she hadn’t but should. Politicians often take voice coaching, but she denied she’d any coaching at all. And, as Monash linguist Simon Musgrave showed, before and after snapshots of her vowel sounds show that nothing much changed after her rise to political power.

Sociolinguistic studies reveal that accents perceived to be coarse or broad are typically more negatively evaluated in females than males. This is so much the case that we sometimes hear broadness where it is not present.

For instance, Gillard’s accent is not strikingly broad at all. One striking feature is her quintessential Adelaide [a] vowel in words like dance and circumstance (so the same vowel sound you hear in la-di-da); it’s more formal and belongs to a higher sociolect.

We all hear language through filters shaped by our beliefs and preconceptions. Even the introduction of a stuffed kangaroo or kiwi into a lab will influence whether people “hear” an Australian or NZ accent (for example, Aussie “feesh” versus NZ “fush” for fish). In other words, these toy animals activated stereotypes about Australian or New Zealand speech and change people’s perception of the vowels.

So, have a heart

We’re not saying politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for the language they use, but don’t let pet hates, pinpricks and pollywaffles get in the way of properly evaluating just how well, or not, they are doing the job.The Conversation

Kate Burridge is a Professor of Linguistics and Howard Manns is a Lecturer in Linguistics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Climate change makes a comeback – with the help of social media

David Holmes, Monash University

In what has been shaping up as the election that forgot climate change, there are signs emerging in the Coalition’s election campaign that it is starting to listen to polls, its own focus groups and social media chat on climate.

So far it is the Great Barrier Reef that has drawn out the biggest campaign fight on climate.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that A$1 billion of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) fund would be directed towards a Reef Fund. 10% of the money from the CEFC will be quarantined to make loans available to farmers in North Queensland.

While Turnbull declared the greatest threat to the reef was global warming, he nevertheless specified that the run-off from farming into the reef was what would be tackled. This is seen to be a measure that could prolong the reef in a region where the Coalition is at risk of losing some marginal seats.

So, one pitch is that saving the reef is about retaining 70,000 jobs that it sustains. But a less believable pitch is that the fund will battle climate change, with Turnbull saying that solar panels for farms in the region will reduce reliance on diesel, and that farmers would have loans for more energy-efficient farm equipment.

Labor’s shadow environment minister, Mark Butler, derided the Reef Fund as a “shameless exercise in spin” insofar as such loans have already been available to farmers for years.

Not far from the reef, in the Galilee Basin, is one of the largest coal deposits in the world, which both Labor and the Coalition have approved mining leases for, but which the Greens’ Larissa Waters insisted must be stopped if we are not going to:

… further cook the reef.

But on Monday night on the ABC’s Q&A, Bill Shorten reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to coal. He said:

A Labor government isn’t going to ban coal mining in this country … Coal is going to be part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, he acknowledged:

… when we talk about the reef and when we talk about climate change, they are inextricably linked.

But Shorten’s message was identical to Turnbull’s in referring to jobs, saying that:

… good environments generate good jobs. 70,000 people make a living from the reef. It generates $6 billion in turnover for the Australian economy.

Weather and climate

In another climate change publicity opportunity, in the wash-up of the east coast storm last week, Shorten and Turnbull spent a day surveying the flood damage in Tasmania – but only Turnbull ventured so far as to link the floods to climate change.

While Shorten was happy to link climate change to the reef, he did not want to go near linking climate and weather:

In terms of climate and weather, today for me is not a day where I will join the dots about extreme weather events.

But Turnbull had no such hesitation. In a rare moment, the Turnbull of old came out in a moment that harked back to his days as environment minister, when he had no problem talking up the dangers of climate change:

Certainly, larger and more frequent storms are one of the consequences that the climate models and climate scientists predict from global warming but you cannot attribute any particular storm to global warming, so let’s be quite clear about that.

Turnbull is incorrect about subtropical lows becoming more frequent, but he is right about climate scientists’ forecasts that storms will get bigger.

If national policies in Australia and around the world are not calibrated to the 2℃ guardrail, the energy we saw released by last week’s storms will pale compared to what might be in store for future generations.

Referring to the Eemian period of 120,000 years ago, which was the last time the global average temperature was as high as the threshold that the Paris agreement is trying to avoid, scientists are uncovering evidence of storms that were of an order not compatible with the built environments of today’s human settlements.

In recent research, James Hansen, the author of the book Storms Of My Grandchildren, points to the puzzle of giant rocks in the Bahamas, up to one thousand tonnes, that are in a place they just shouldn’t be. Scientists warn these geological freaks harbour a terrifying secret – epic superstorms capable of tossing around boulders like bored Olympians.

But so as to reassure voters, both leaders did talk up the importance of mitigating damage (through the likes of building levies) – but not mitigating climate change itself.

While it was remarkable for Turnbull to discuss climate change at all in this election campaign, he failed to join the dots between the adequacy of the Coalition’s emissions reduction targets for Australia realising a responsible contribution to avoiding a 2℃ threshold.

Social media as a barometer of climate concern

A likely explanation as to why Turnbull in particular is reasserting climate change and the reef as an issue – but not asserting any kind of policy that will fix it – may be his reverence for the power of social media, and what it is telling his media team about neglecting climate change.

An analysis of 150,000 conversations on social media in Australia for the first three weeks of the election campaign reveals climate change is among the top five political topics Australians are talking about on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

More than half of the discourse is negative towards each leader, with only 22% positive about Turnbull and 35% positive on Shorten. But of these posts, grouped around leaders, the only issue (other than negative gearing) that is common to discussion of both leaders is climate change. Climate change also stands out as the only issue in the top five that was not being aired by the leaders.

The analysis, by Meltwater, is significant in that it is so different from a poll. Those who answer a poll know that it will be aggregated and is likely to have a political impact. Their answers may not actually reflect their concerns as much as it does the desire to have an impact.

Analysis of social media, however, is more likely to capture the “backstage” of what people are actually concerned about in their daily conversations.

Could it be that, buried in these backstage conversations, are clues as to why voters are turning away from the major parties? And that neglect of climate change is a big part of this? Could it also be why the major parties have made panicked preference decisions to block the Greens and independents, who combined may capture 25% of the national vote?

There is evidence also that the Coalition’s announcements on the Great Barrier Reef are calculated to neutralise social media concern about it as an issue.

Perhaps it is its focus groups or it could be simply the impact of talk show mega-star Ellen DeGeneres’ “Remember the Reef” video-message campaign.

The campaign, which is also part of a promotion for a new film, Finding Dory, has seen Disney, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority collaborate on raising awareness about the threats to the reef.

But more remarkable than this campaign was the barrage of tweets from Environment Minister Greg Hunt, strenuously defending the government’s management of the reef.

A further tweet personally invited DeGeneres out to visit the reef to allay her fears. But the fear is mostly coming from Hunt it seems, that the Disney campaign really could get out of control, based on an animated movie that is to be screened just two weeks out from election day.The Conversation

David Holmes is a Senior Lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Dr Katrina Lee-Koo authors Third Annual Civil Society Report on Women, Peace and Security

The 3rd Annual Civil Society Report Card on Australia’s National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security was launched in early June by Dr Alan Ryan, Executive Director, Australian Civil-Military Centre in Canberra .

The report, authored by Monash’s Dr Katrina Lee-Koo, is the third annual report produced by civil society in Australia, and acts as a shadow report on Australia’s progress towards implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) on the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. Its launch coincides with the Government’s own review of progress at the mid-term point of the NAP

Dr Katrina Lee-Koo with Dr Alan Ryan at the launch of the 3rd Annual Civil Society Report Card on Australia’s National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security
Dr Katrina Lee-Koo with Dr Alan Ryan at the launch of the 3rd Annual Civil Society Report Card on Australia’s National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security

The civil society report gathered evidence through a dialogue process with Government where participants adopted deliberative approaches to identifying the strengths and opportunities for implementation of the NAP, as well relying upon an in-depth survey of civil society participants working on issues related to women, peace and security.

The report can be downloaded from the Publications section of the Monash Gender, Peace and Security website. 

Dr Katrina Lee Koo is the Deputy Director of the Monash Gender, Peace and Security Initiative and is a senior lecturer in International Relations at Monash. 

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Monash Historians recognised by Australian Historical Association

It’s been a great week for Monash Historians, as the Australian Historical Association shortlisted three Monash Arts academics for the W.K. Hancock Prize.

The W.K. Hancock Prize shortlist, announced June 9th, was made up of three Monash Arts Academics. The Prize recognises and encourages an Australian scholar who has published a first book in any field of history in 2014 or 2015. The $2,000 prize was instituted in 1987 by the AHA to honour the contribution to the study and writing of history in Australia by Sir Keith Hancock.


The shortlisted academics are:

  • Adam ClulowThe Company and The Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (Columbia University Press, 2014)
  • Reto HofmannThe Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy, 1915–1952 (Cornell University Press, 2015)
  • Ruth MorganRunning Out? Water in Western Australia (UWA Publishing, 2015)

Ruth Morgan has also been shortlisted for a fellowship to advance research on her current project. The Allan Martin Award is a research fellowship to assist early career historians further their research in Australian history. The biennial award of up to $4,000 will assist with the expenses of a research trip undertaken in Australia or overseas in support of a project in Australian history. Dr Morgan’s project, ‘Australindia: Australia, India and the Ecologies of Empire, 1788–1901’, is also supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2016-18).

Winners of the W.K. Hancock Prize will be announced in early July. 

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Monash Historian Professor Christina Twomey joins International Coordinating Committee of Historians Without Borders

In May 2016, Professor Christina Twomey attended the preliminary meeting in Helsinki of a new international network, Historians Without Borders. Initiated by the former Finnish Foreign Minister, Mr Erkki Tomouija, the network aims to promote better knowledge of history among policy makers, peacekeepers and in the process of conflict resolution. Medicines Sans Frontiers save lives in situations of humanitarian crisis and conflict. Historians Without Borders cannot so directly preserve life, but can assist in the difficult task of building understanding in order to prevent hatred and violence.

One message shone through the presentations by Nobel Laureates, Oxford professors and UN envoys: it is not particularly helpful to draw historical analogies. The past does not repeat itself, at least not in precisely the same form. There may be elements of similarity between situations in the past and contemporary concerns, but an emphasis on superficial likeness can rob analysis of complexity and therefore impede its usefulness.

Historioitsijat-ilman-rajojaIt is not helpful, for example, to draw an analogy between the US Occupation of Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War, and its Occupation of Iraq in the early 2000s. It would have been far more useful to policymakers in that situation to educate themselves about the history of Iraq, particularly the role of British Administration in the inter-war years, and the dynamics of the Sunni and Shia denominations of Islam.

There will never be ‘another Vietnam’, not in Iraq, or Afghanistan or anywhere else. To describe a conflict thus impedes rather than enhances understanding. Slogans are for politicians. Rather than predicting the future, or reinforcing dominant myths and narratives, the historian’s role is to point out particularity.

History reminds us that there have always been other ways of being in the world. Many post-war children in the West studied English novelist L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953) and its opening line still rings true: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’. History enables us to see beyond our own horizon, to account for (if not legitimise) the sensitivities of particular groups, and to understand that no outcome is pre-ordained or inevitable.

People in the past were often responsible for harmful policies and decisions, while believing without question that they were right or justified. The job of the historian is to expose those assumptions, and in doing so compare and contrast them with our own. Professor Margaret Macmillan reminded the gathering in Helsinki that history teaches humility: just as previous generations had assumptions we now consider blatantly incorrect, some of our own will also struggle to withstand historical scrutiny.

Historians without Borders encourages academic historians to take part in public debate. It is important that they do so without resorting to facile analogy, by insisting on complexity, and by admitting that they cannot predict the future.

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On Happiness panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival

What is happiness, and how does the pursuit of happiness shape our lives? Monash’s Associate Professor Tony Moore, alongside authors Alice Pung, Ranjana Srivastava and Deborah Pike will be attempting to answer that very question in an author panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival this month.

On Happiness willy Lit Fest 2016 Large copy (1)On Happiness, which features contributions from the authors listed above, was published in 2015 and launched at last year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Assoc Prof Moore’s chapter is called ‘Stop laughing – this is Serious: the ‘Larrikin Carnivalesque’ in Australia’. It was the result of research carried out as part of an ARC Discovery project  ‘Fringe to Famous‘, that includes an investigation of comedy from 1980 to the present.

“My contribution to this book is to critique the idea of happiness as quiescence, contentment, acceptance of social norms and conformity to the status quo. In contrast I look at happiness as liberation, as comedic disruption to conformity that destabilises complacent authority, producing new ways of seeing and being,” Assoc Prof Moore said.

On Happiness: New Ideas for the 21st Century, will be on at the Council Chamber, 12L00 pm – 1:00 pm on the 19th of June 2016. Bookings are essential and tickets can be purchased on the Williamstown Literary Festival website. 

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The vaudeville, impact and substance of political name-calling

Howard Manns, Monash University

Scott Morrison would have us think politics is more war than performance whereas names like ScoMo tell us quite the opposite. When pollies, in the words of Paul Keating, “turn the switch to vaudeville”, we like nothing more than to slap names on our political heroes and villains, and to sit bemused and amused at the names they give one another.

Moreover, political nicknames hint at the overlap between politics and performance. Lady Macbeth has been applied to ambitious female politicians, including Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard. As an aside, it’s worth noting that that the word ambitious has links to the Latin ambitiō meaning “to go around soliciting votes”.

Gillard and Rudd as a pair garnered the moniker Kath and Kev (a cheeky reference to Kath and Kim) and Belgian-born Mathias Cormann has been called The Cormantator (a tongue-in-cheek reference to another accented politician, The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger). Cormann’s reference to Bill Shorten as a Girly Man only served to strengthen these links.

In sum, it’s difficult to take the war metaphor seriously when the supposed warriors are desiccated coconuts (Keating on John Howard), half-baked crims (Keating on Wilson Tuckey), unrepresentative swill (Keating on the Senate) or a shiver looking for a spine to run up (Keating on John Hewson).

Election 2016’s monikers – e.g. Bill Shorten’s moobs,a blend of man boobs, Electricity Bill; Malcolm Turnbull’s out of touch; daddy – do nothing to dissuade us from this view.

But do names and nicknames matter?

The impact of political name-calling

Political inclinations aside, research says yes.

On a positive note, we Aussies are found of our shortenings, so it’s hardly surprising we say Albo, Bracksy and Plibbers for Anthony Albanese, Steve Bracks and Tonya Plibersek respectively.

On a negative note, research has shown we’re less apt to vote for someone named Dewey or Buchanan simply because their names have the same “disgusting” vowel sound as putrid.

Ethnic names have historically carried negative connotations for US voters but it’s worth noting this is changing. For instance, Republican pundits have gone to great lengths to highlight Barack Obama’s middle name Hussein. Research showed this was an effective strategy for right-leaning voters but actually backfired for left-leaning and moderate voters, who found it to be transparent dog-whistling.

This is why, while the media pundits kept using Hussein, sometimes even adding (a non-existent) Muhammad to Obama’s name, Republican pollies began to shy away from this practice.

Australian pollies generally avoid explicit race baiting (but it’s disgustingly present in other electoral domains). That said, the American-born senator Norm Sanders notably took umbrage to being told “Go home, Yank”, calling it an “ethnic slur”.

While explicit race-baiting is a no-no in modern politics, some pollies garner nicknames because of their dog whistling. For instance, Tony Abbott is known by some Indigenous people as The Gammon Man (“pretender”) and he is known by other groups simply as the number 5265617 (the arrival number of one boat not stopped by the Australian government, the one Abbott arrived on from the UK).

In Australia, we like our pollies not too larrikin but not too rich. Consequently, political name calling has often made reference to class or, lack thereof. For instance, former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu has varyingly been called the Toff from Toorak, Tanty Ted and Cottee’s (because he’s “thick and rich”). Notably, this isn’t the first time ‘thick and rich’ has come up in Australian politics, with Senator Shirley Walters being called creamy for the same reason.

At the other end of the spectrum, of course, Bob Hawke went too far at times but his silver bodgie label certainly wasn’t the worst insult to emerge over the course of Australian politics. Australia’s more “articulate” (or rather posher) pollies have often mocked their less “articulate” (or rather working class) colleagues.

For instance, in the 1890s, one member of the NSW legislature, Sir Henry Parkes, mocked a colleague for his (mis)pronunciation of “h” at the start of words, saying:

Ho, the honourable member for Balmain, who for once – and, of course, but haccident – has made a sensible hobservation.

This, too, conjures Robert Menzies’ famous response to a working-class constituent, who upon asking, “wotcha gunna do about ‘ousing?” received the answer, “Put an ‘h’ in front of it”.

The substance and victims of name-calling

So why name call in politics? It’s part and parcel of the political landscape and it goes back a long time.

For instance, essayist Amber A’Lee Frost points out that the Austrian-born Queen Marie Antoinette was “singled out for especially inventive and vicious taunting” via pamphlets known as libelles (with links to our modern libel). Authors of these libelles coined the word Austrichienne “Austrian bitch”, a word which resembled the French word for “ostrich”. The authors accentuated this pun with drawings of the queen committing sexual acts with ostriches.

Our modern pollies use name calling to demonise, weaken and create doubts about honesty or loyalty in their competitors. At times, political name-calling can seem quite petty. For example, physical traits often come up. Menzies was called Ming the Merciless (Flash Gordon’s nemesis) in part because of his oversized eyebrows. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been called shrek and lurch because of his size.

Rhyming and wordplay can lead to some positive and negative names. Kevin Rudd on the one hand built a campaign on a rhyme (Kevin07) but on the other hand found himself derisively labelled Keven 747, Heavy Kevvy, Kevin 24/7 and Rudd the Dudd.

Perceived and playful ways of speaking and presentation can also become targets for insults. For instance, Bob Carr was known by colleagues as Wottha, as in “what’s he saying this time?”, and Kelly O’Dwyer has been called Whytha as in “why the long face?”. Sometimes the name of the politician develops into an insult in its own right as did former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett’s name (e.g. a Jeff’d up economy, Jeffing awful)

And, of course, some of these insults can be downright mean. In recent decades, John Howard (e.g. the rodent, dead carcass, unflushable turd) and Julia Gillard (e.g. Juliar, witch, bitch, old cow) have perhaps copped it worse than most. As an aside in light of space, it’s worth also noting the kinds of words that get used to describe male and female politicians, as these words certainly reflect prejudices in the wider community.

So then, should our pollies avoid name calling? Essayist A’Lee Frost argues no, writing:

If we do not embrace the profane now and again, we will find ourselves handicapped by our own civility.

Yet, in closing, we reckon it’s worth defending one creature hard done by political name calling. There is reputedly a brush turkey in Whale Beach, NSW, named Barnaby Joyce. No animal deserves to suffer this indignation.The Conversation

Howard Manns is a Lecturer in Linguistics at Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Björk, digital feminist diva, helps cure our wounds in a visceral Sydney show

Andrea Jean Baker, Monash University

Feminine power and explosive gender relations set against the surreal, desolate landscape of the world’s northernmost countries feature in the latest digital work from Iceland’s best known female music auteur, Björk.

Björk Digital had its world premiere at Carriageworks in Redfern, Sydney, on Friday as part of the Vivid festival. Nestled amongst a lush garden bed, dressed in white with a lime green headset, Björk jived along to her 5-hour DJ set of classical, Japanese and Bollywood-inspired ecstatic electronia, while more than 800 ravers looked on curiously and danced.

Spearheaded by Björk’s 2015, and most deeply personal album yet, Vulnicara (Latin for “Cure for Wounds”), the exhibition is dedicated to the 51-year-old artist’s female mystique, genre shifting music, video collaborations and virtual reality experimentation.

Vulnicara chronicles the breakdown of Björk’s 13-year marriage to New York visual artist, Matthew Barney. On entering the show, you are greeted in surround sound by the 10-minute, classically driven video aria for the song Black Lake.

Co-produced by LA fashion and music filmmaker, Andrew Huang, it is a relationship post-mortem and a dark, visceral love letter to her homeland. Björk appears as a wildly earthy, female warrior staggering through cave corridors of black volcanic rock that oozes with blue-tinged, suffragette purple lava. “Did I love you too much”, she sings in her childlike, submarine-deep voice.

Donning headphones in the next room, viewers experience a 3D virtual reality feast of the first song on the album, Stonemilker, also co-produced by Huang. It has a harrowing, heart string violin and an electronic dance feel. Wearing a soft canary yellow dress and white platform shoes, Bjork climbs over a rock wall on a black stone beach in Grotta, near her birth place of Reykjavik. “We have emotional needs”, she screeches.

Black Lake and Stonemilker had their first (rather cramped) showing at the Bjork Retrospective at MoMA in New York last year but the Carriageworks exhibition has dedicated more than five rooms to her work.

Another intimate headphone experience at Björk Digital – and the most avant garde track on Vulnicara – is the VR video, also turned phone app, Mouth Mantra. Partly filmed in Björk’s mouth, and directed by London-based Jesse Kanda, it offers views of her tongue aerobics and warped teeth, and a palpable sense of her emotional pain.

But these Vulnicara inspired pieces are just the tip of the iceberg of the Carriageworks exhibit. The Notget VR room showcases Björk’s bizarre masks made by her long time designer, James Merry while the Biophilia VR space, based on the artist’s 2011 collaboration with the naturalist David Attenborough, is an audio-visual exploration of the universe.

The final room in the exhibit screens two decades of her videos in collaboration with indie greats such as Michael Gondry and Spike Jones.

Björk hails from a small, geographically isolated country, which is becoming a world leader in technology, environmentalism, experimental music and feminism. These elements are omnipotent in the aesthetic and immersive experience of this exhibition.

With a population of less than 350,000, Iceland has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world, and hosts more than ten music festivals per year. Later this month, its Secret Solstice festival will be certified carbon neutral.

Iceland has had two female heads of state and was the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons.

While promoting Vulnicura Björk bypassed interview requests from the middle-aged, male reporters who dominate the global music industry.

She opted for the transformative potential of female critics, such as’s senior music writer Jessica Hooper, author of the 2015 bestseller, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic.

This was part of Björk’s strategy to challenge the femme fatale stereotyping and marginalisation of women in the music industry, across the media, management and production.

As Hooper writes, “as much as this record is about him [Barney]”, it is also about Björk reclaiming “herself as a woman, artist and feminist”.

Winner of the 2016 Brit Awards for Best International Female Solo Artist, Björk has scoffed at the misreports that the nine-track Vulnicara was produced by her new collaborator, 26-year-old Venezuelan electronica producer, Arca (Alejandro Ghersi), when it was, in fact, she and Arca who worked on it. As Björk recalled in a January interview in Pitchfork,

After being the only girl in bands for 10 years, I learnt – the hard way – that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they – men – had the ideas.

In AnOther magazine Bjork has said of the music industry:

I want to support young girls who are in their 20s and tell them: ‘You’re not imagining things. It’s tough’.

Björk Digital at Carriageworks runs until 18 June.The Conversation

Andrea Jean Baker is a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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So far so good for the Greens as the campaign passes the halfway mark

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

The Greens are making surprisingly good strides at this election.

In the early weeks of the campaign, the Greens had Labor on the run, squeezing the ALP on penalty rates and the Safe Schools program. It even unsettled senior Labor MPs such as Anthony Albanese.

The Greens’ confident advance forced Labor to expend its energy on talking about the things that it will not do if elected, such as enter a coalition government with the Greens in the event of a hung parliament.

Labor has also been under pressure to make some important concessions in key policy areas, such as increasing the humanitarian intake of refugees in an attempt to limit the defection of its supporters to the Greens in key inner-city electorates.

But, as the University of Sydney’s Stewart Jackson has observed, the Greens typically start strongly in an election campaign before running out of puff.

Challenges and controversies

There have been challenges for the Greens. Some of these challenges are the inevitable consequence of their minor party status.

There is the persistent difficulty for the party in inserting themselves into the main election debates. For example, the major parties’ refusal to make room for Greens leader Richard Di Natale at the leaders’ debates serves to reinforce the dominance of the two main political groupings.

There is also the spectre of major party collusion, which might frustrate the Greens’ lower house ambitions.

The most recent turn of events is talk of the Liberals and Labor swapping preferences in order to protect their respective interests in key lower house seats.

Quite apart from those matters outside of the Greens’ control, there have been setbacks that are entirely self-inflicted.

Footage from 2014 of the party’s high-profile candidate for Grayndler, Jim Casey, suggesting that an Abbott Coalition government was preferable to a Shorten Labor government jarred with Di Natale’s efforts to reposition the Greens as a progressive mainstream party.

And then Di Natale made headlines for dragging his feet in declaring the family farm in Victoria as a real estate interest, and for allegedly underpaying three au pairs.

These revelations caused the party some embarrassment, particularly given its condemnation of Labor’s refusal to legislate to protect penalty rates, and on the back of their calls for Labor MP David Feeney to be disciplined for failing to declare an investment property in his electorate of Batman.

Where does this leave the Greens electorally?

Before I weigh in on this, I am obliged to state the bleeding obvious: I can only speculate as to probable outcomes.

Having made my excuses, I do think the Greens’ Senate prospects are healthy, notwithstanding the uncertainties the new Senate voting system might generate in terms of possible increases in informal votes and the impact of exhausted voter preferences.

Roy Morgan polling data indicates the Greens can win two Senate seats in Tasmania and up to two seats in Victoria and New South Wales. The party is also tracking comfortably to win one seat in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. A conservative estimate would be that the Greens will claim somewhere between six to nine of the available Senate vacancies.

In the House of Representatives, the party’s prospects are far more limited. In order for their candidates to gain election to the lower house, a number of things have to go the Greens’ way.

A Greens candidate must poll in either first or second place, preferably the former. A Greens candidate that polls in number-two position must hope that the difference between them and the highest-ranked candidate is less than 10%. The final hurdle is that the preferences from excluded candidates, specifically those from the Liberals, flow in their general direction.

Given this, the Greens are on track to pick up two Victorian seats: Melbourne and Batman.

Adam Bandt is very likely to retain his seat of Melbourne. In 2013, his primary vote increased by more than 7% to 42.62%, as compared to the second-placed Labor candidate, who attracted 26.6% of the first-preference vote. And according to The Australian’s Troy Bramston, Labor is “not even targeting Melbourne at this election”.

The other seat that is looking very promising for the Greens is Batman, held by David Feeney.

Feeney has made headlines in this campaign not only for failing to disclose an investment property but also for leaving highly sensitive Labor briefing documents at a Sky News studio after a disastrous media interview.

The negative publicity that has engulfed Feeney is of a magnitude that his seat is now firmly in the Greens’ sights. Privately, Labor has conceded the seat. The Greens are in a particularly strong position to take advantage of Feeney’s woes because its candidate, Alex Bhathal, has a high profile in the electorate, having contested the seat in 2010 and 2013.

Having said this, it is hard to know where the chips will ultimately fall for the Greens at this election. The party has been known to defy the expectations of commentators, such as it did at the 2015 NSW state election. But it is equally true is that the party can stumble spectacularly, as it did at the 2014 Tasmanian state election.

For now, at least, the Greens’ campaign has been steady, strategic and adaptive.The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta is a Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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MIDP student Amanda interned in Cambodia with SEED Monash

Amanda Taylor
Amanda Taylor

Master of International Development Practice (MIDP) student, Amanda Taylor, recently did a 6 week internship in Cambodia with SEED Monash, a student volunteer development organisation.

Amanda was based in Siem Reap in northern Cambodia (close to the world heritage ruins at Angkor Wat). She and her fellow team members travelled each day to a small rural village to help implement a financial education program for school children.

Why did you decide to do this internship in Cambodia?

Initially I was looking for something to add to my experience at University and, through Monash Clubs and Societies, I came across Monash SEED and the Cambodia Impact Program.

By chance it happened to cover everything I’d be learning: how to do research and development; project management and the project cycle; and then being able to take it overseas, and apply it in a field experience format.

What was your role; what did you do ‘day to day’?

School children from Thnal Dach village
School children from Thnal Dach village

I was Team Leader on the  Cambodia Impact Trip, and we were implementing the ‘Financial Development Project’ which focuses on ‘savings’, ‘budgeting’ and ‘loans’ education for school children.

Each day we’d have our morning meeting (with the SEED team) in the village. Then we’d run a class for primary school students from 12-1pm, usually in their lunch break, and a class from 6-7pm for secondary school students, so that way we could address the different learning levels.

What did you enjoy the most?

The level of engagement that we have with the local village – we’re just so welcome there!

Amanda with village children
Amanda with children from Thnal Dach village

We’d get to go to weddings, and the kids would drag us to the parties, and we’d end up dancing with them.

And just the things that you wouldn’t normally see, like a tractor pulling three large speakers stacked high, with buddhist monks, blasting music, going down the street.

What was the most challenging thing you experienced in your internship?

Definitely having to be adaptable at all times! There’d be times when we’d get ‘you can’t teach today – there’s a wedding’, or ‘you can’t teach today – there’s a buddhist ceremony’. So just being flexible, making sure we’re still meeting our objectives, but being adaptable to meet the current circumstances.

I think the hardest part is trying to pre-empt problems, like making sure that the way we’ve written things is appropriate for translation. Sometimes it’s hard to know what might end up being an issue, it can be very minor, like we didn’t know that (the word) ‘emergency’ is very culturally difficult to translate into Khmer.

We taught them about loans – personal, business and emergencies – but how ’emergencies’ translates for them needed to have a lot more context. When we asked the children for examples of emergencies they kept going down the accidents path, they have very vivid imaginations!  Next time we plan it we’ll say  “Emergencies: such as a medical emergency or a motorcycle accident.”

How did your Cambodian internship relate to your study?

It’s such a huge thing for development right now: getting development right and working in partnership with locals, emphasising local knowledge and helping local knowledge to be recreated.

The internship involved a lot of participatory principles which underlie what we are being taught in the Masters program.

We were constantly consulting and asking for feedback, trying to understand what our impacts are, where our strengths and weaknesses lie. It’s great to be able to practice that in field and not just learn about it in the classroom.

The SEED team in Phnom Penh
The SEED team in Phnom Penh

For example we got feedback from (local consultant and translator) Hak Hort, that the villagers didn’t want a particular type of village-wide survey to be done again.

So instead we decided to focus predominantly on the students who were already with us, interviewing their families, and then holding parent-teacher interviews to get more behavioural insights. We were able to work with Hak to develop a different solution, one that still helped us meet our expected outcomes, but remain engaged with the villagers in a healthy way.

Did your internship in Cambodia help you decide what you’d like to do after finishing your degree?

I’m still really undecided, there are so many options, it’s sort of the paradox of choice!  But I think it’s been a great opportunity to explore another avenues I wouldn’t normally have exposure to.

This internship has reaffirmed for me that no one project is going to solve poverty, but small projects that are focused, and are done well, can help and do have a place.

Governments, large NGOs, and international agencies can’t reach every aspect of a country, but with these small direct partnerships we can help create a team to respond to what locals need.

Also understanding that there’s a really good place for student volunteers in development projects. (In the final semester of her Masters degree, Amanda is doing a Research Project  about student run development programs and the need for voluntary regulation, based on her experience with SEED Monash in Cambodia).

So yes, it was a nice way to understand how it all fits in the big picture – I just feel like I got so much out of it, it’s tied everything together really neatly!

Find out more

Internship units in your Master’s degree are a great way to develop practical experience in your field while building new contacts and networks. An internship can be taken either for academic credit or as ‘not for credit’ if you prefer.


Sonia, MCMS student interning at the Hawthorn Football Club

Sonia Constandelos, Master of Communications and Media Studies  student.
Sonia Constandelos

Sonia Constandelos is a 2nd Year Master of Communications and Media Studies student, currently doing a ‘Digital Media’ internship with the Hawthorn Football Club at Waverly Park, just down the road from Monash’s Clayton campus.

During her Master’s course Sonia has become increasingly interested in social media and interactive communications, and has even written about ‘football fandom’, so when the opportunity for the internship came up at the Hawthorn Football Club, she jumped at it.

Why did you decide to do an internship with the Hawthorn Footy Club?

Well I’m definitely a huge footy fan – although not a Hawthorn fan, and I like to know what’s going on in that field, so when I saw the opportunity, I just couldn’t not apply!

Do you get to watch the Hawthorn team train?

Sometimes! The video producer I work with takes all the videos and photos, so he’s down there all the time, but I’m mostly in the office – although I’m near the gym, so I do see the players coming and going.

What is your role as a digital media intern like, what do you do day to day?

I’m working alongside the Digital Media Manager in that department (one of several departments in the club).

I’m heavily involved in the website, I help post articles about the history of the club, or about the match that’s about to happen, and we use a ‘cycler’ to boost the articles we think the fans will want to read on any day.

I have to find relevant photos and I might repost videos from a couple of months ago to keep the engagement up. One of the major goals of the website is to keep the fans, or the consumers, of the website on there for as long as possible. I’m also analysing engagement on twitter and facebook, click rates and those sorts of very specific things.

It must be great to see the inner workings of a successful club like Hawthorn?

Definitely, considering my own interests in AFL, I like seeing how the coaches and players interact with each other, it helps that they’re a successful club, so they’re quite happy!

Their administration is also successful, I’m learning how all of those factors help to make a really great AFL club, it’s not just training, or even winning, it’s a number of factors coming together, including our digital department.

What has been most rewarding for you?

The chance to communicate online with such a huge supporter base has been a big advantage for me. I’m working in a Victorian club that is massive, the Hawthorn Football club has got the second biggest membership, and it’s on it’s way to being the biggest!

What was the most challenging thing you experienced in your internship?

I’ve received really good guidance from my supervisors, but I find the technical aspect of working there a challenge sometimes, learning how to use the systems, just building my skills.

Also I only work two days, in the middle of the week, so sometimes I feels like I miss out on the life of the club from Thursday to Tuesday, particularly the game days.

How are you finding the internship relates to your study?

In terms of applying what I’ve already learned from the theoretical to the practical it has been really good, because I’ve already done a lot of writing research into social media, having to develop my own questions, so this all relates to that.

I even written about football fandom during my course, so it’s all been very relevant to what I’m doing now.

Has this internship helped you decide what you’d like to do after finishing your degree?

Yes, I think it’s narrowed it in a good way. Previously I hadn’t had much of an idea, but now I know I really like to understand how people engage with social media, it’s purpose and how it can be applied more broadly.

I do really think I can sustain a career in this field, maintaining digital communication with others, and a big group of people too. I’ve learnt how it’s possible to achieve this.

Find out more

Internship units in your Master’s degree are a great way to develop practical experience in your field while building new contacts and networks. An internship can be taken either for academic credit or as ‘not for credit’ if you prefer.


Aided by the new Senate rules, Nick Xenophon should have a happy election night

Nick Economou, Monash University

There are two election battles going on ahead of polling day on July 2. One is for executive power in the contest for the House of Representatives. The other is for the Senate, which is elected under a system of proportional representation that utilises the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

To win a Senate place at a double-dissolution election, a candidate needs to secure 7.7% of the vote cast in the candidate’s state. This sounds like a trifling amount, but in a state like New South Wales, 7.7% equates to 336,963 votes. This, by the way, is the total number of voters in Tasmania, where, to secure a Senate seat, a candidate needs only 25,945 votes.


Trying to predict Senate outcomes is difficult at the best of times, but the 2016 contest for the upper house is even more unknown thanks to the abolition of the group voting ticket, and its replacement by what is effectively optional preferential voting.

Nobody knows how voters will respond to the Australian Electoral Commission’s instructions on filling in Senate ballots. This means there is great uncertainty about how many ballots will end up counting as preferences.

The best prediction that can be made is that, in order to win a seat, candidates will have to rely on achieving a quota or close to a quota on primary votes alone. The days of a Ricky Muir winning a seat because preferences boosted an otherwise miniscule primary vote are probably over.

Assuming that seats will most likely go to party tickets getting enough primary votes to achieve the requisite quota, only five parties are guaranteed representation. Those are Labor, Liberal, Nationals, the Greens, and Nick Xenophon’s new party. The latter’s support in South Australia should see it secure at least two – possibly three or maybe four – seats.

Of the rest, the only former senator who has a reasonable chance of being returned is Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. It is quite conceivable that a high-profile individual could get the 26,000 votes needed to secure a seat in a state with a history of voting for prominent individuals ahead of party tickets.

There is much less certainty about the fate of the others. Glenn Lazarus and Dio Wang were elected under the auspices of the Palmer United Party, which has since imploded.

Pauline Hanson is running for a Queensland Senate spot, which could be very interesting.

The mystery of why so many people voted for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in New South Wales in 2013 has not really been solved. But the inclusion of party emblems on the ballot paper as part of the recent Senate voting reforms suggests the LDP’s David Leyonhjelm was the beneficiary of mistaken identity and having pole position on the 2013 ballot paper. It is unlikely any of these happy coincidences will happen again.

Given the Coalition will not win an upper house majority, the next most likely scenario is that Xenophon and his party members will hold the balance of power in the Senate. Both major party leaders would probably be comfortable with this outcome.

For all his positioning on populist issues, Xenophon has great experience in the ways of upper house politics, especially with regard to negotiating with the major parties on important legislation.

Xenophon’s track record as a crossbench senator has always been characterised by trying to use the upper house to modify bills rather than simply defeat them. And his political persona has none of the volatility associated with a Clive Palmer or the ideological rigidity of Tasmania’s Brian Harradine, who held the balance of power for a time when John Howard was prime minister.

The unknown factor in this, however, is how Xenophon will fare as the leader of a political party with a parliamentary wing. The history of minor parties put together quickly by prominent characters ahead of a general election has not been a happy one.

The Nuclear Disarmament Party was created ahead of the 1984 election, and imploded soon after. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation did not survive long after its impact on the 1998 Queensland state and federal elections, and the implosion of the Palmer United Party has already been alluded to.

The challenge for Xenophon will not necessarily be about winning Senate seats, but keeping his party together in the transition from being a support mechanism for a charismatic leader to being a parliamentary party.

All of this assumes the Nick Xenophon Team will hold the balance of power in the Senate, and this is by no means a certainty. Any candidate from a party other than Labor and the Coalition could be pivotal to the balance of power in the Senate. A Labor-Green majority cannot be ruled out either.

The chances of another minor party being in such a position of power is remote, not least because of the new Senate voting rules that do away with preference harvesting. This is a reform that Xenophon himself was instrumental in expediting, showing once again how effectively he can merge his political self-interest with declarations that he seeks to serve the national interest.

The Conversation

Nick Economou is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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A hard rain’s gonna fall: deep water for the election campaign

David Holmes, Monash University

With an unprecedented storm flooding large population centres on Australia’s east coast over the weekend, you would be forgiven for thinking politicians on the campaign trail might pause to reflect on climate change.

On the other side of the world, France and much of west and northern Europe are also experiencing extensive floods. They are unprecedented in the speed at which they have deluged cities and communities.

Climate change did not overdetermine these floods in Australia and Europe. But, it has super-charged their intensity and speed in a way that would make them rare in the past.

The weather patterns are complex, but the climate change part of the science is less so. Every 1℃ increase in global average temperature means the atmosphere can hold 7% more water vapour. This means that when moist air condenses into rainfall, it is capable of coming down for much longer and in much greater volume than it did in pre-industrial times.

Climate change is not about some kind of linear increase in temperature. It is about an increase in energy in the climate system that produces extremes – in drought, storms, wind, heatwaves and floods. Floods are just one of the expressions of the violence of the excess energy.

Analysis from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, published last year and reported in the New York Times, showed record-breaking rainfall has increased 12% from 1980 to 2010 compared to the previous 80 years. In Europe, the increase was 31%. This is because the northern hemisphere temperature anomalies are so much greater than the south.

In France, the floods are getting attention as they are affecting globally recognised public treasures such as artwork at the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay. Paris hasn’t experienced a flood of this magnitude in more than 30 years, and certainly not one that has accumulated at the speed of this one.

This has moved French President Francois Hollande to link the flood to climate change, only six months after the climate summit held in Paris last December.

But, in Australia, at the midway point of an election campaign, the leaders of the major parties failed to mention our floods. Malcolm Turnbull aired the hang-up he shares with Bill Shorten about avoiding a hung parliament to shore up their own political power.

Ironically, a hung parliament might lead to power-sharing with the one party likely to drive effective action on climate – the Greens.

The Great Barrier Reef visits Australian voters

At a time when some are “reef-stricken” about the pending loss of coral at one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, many are oblivious to the seriousness of the bleaching process. While Environment Minister Greg Hunt would like to take credit for management of the Great Barrier Reef, the greatest palpable threat to the reef is warming sea-surface temperatures.

Just days after it was revealed the Australian government had lobbied for the removal of an entire chapter on the reef from a UN report, Hunt applauded his own management of the reef.

With the current floods, we are now seeing the hangover from the record sea surface temperatures that emerged in the last six months. This has devastated 93% of the reef.

But the leaders appear to be afraid of any kind of contest, let alone one on climate change. Last week’s highly scripted leaders’ debate largely dodged climate change, despite persistent questioning from Financial Review journalist Laura Tingle.

There is a growing indication that voters are taking extreme weather into their deliberations around climate policy. Even though mainstream media is notoriously bad at linking extreme weather to climate change, which is taboo for many Coalition MP’s, voters make this link themselves simply by experiencing it on an ever-more regular basis.

Even Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, one of the eight-member kill-the-carbon-tax group that met every week in Cory Bernardi’s office, is having second thoughts. A feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald had him questioning his faith in Coalition groupthink.

After visiting his parents parched landholding in Rutherglen, Joyce declared:

I start to wonder whether climate change might really be happening.

This phenomena is an example of what founder Bill McKibben said at the end of what he regarded as a failed climate summit in Paris. Without an effective agreement, there is only one negotiation that remains: with physics itself. And physics actually holds all the cards.

As voters confront the physics or – put another way – extreme weather visits upon us, climate change becomes depoliticised.

But, in ignoring the physics, the cowardly climate stance that the major party leaders have taken is likely to backfire. Both leaders set out from the position that climate change has become so politicised that swinging voters are more likely to change their voter intention on other issues such as “jobs and growth”, education and hospitals.

A telling statistic here comes from three weeks of data collected by the ABC’s Vote Compass. 63% of the 250,000 respondents now want to see a price on carbon in Australia, compared to 50% in 2013.

But, more significantly, the shift was most marked in Coalition voters. There is a 13% increase in those wanting a price on carbon (41% agree, 22% are neutral).

These figures have prompted former Liberal leader John Hewson to challenge the idea that the Coalition’s 2013 campaign to “axe the tax” won it the last election.

As the Mona Lisa makes its way to higher ground, and Australians are asked to stay indoors across four states, the reality of climate change continues to assert itself. While they may be in denial, politicians cannot dismiss climate change as an issue that comes and goes. It is here to stay for today’s voters and for every election to come.The Conversation

David Holmes is a Senior Lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The ‘wells’, ‘looks’ and vibe of Australian debating: language to look for on Sunday

Howard Manns, Monash University

I would never claim to be a suppository of wisdom but speaking off script can get a pollie into trouble. And, well, look, shit happens in debates.

This means it’s worth flagging some differences in the way in which pollies and parties debate and some language strategies to look for on Sunday.

Party differences in past debates

I used a text analysis tool called Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (or LIWC) to analyse Australian election debates between 1998 and 2013. LIWC notes differences in texts and speakers across 70 linguistic and psychological categories. With a nod to Dale Kerrigan, LIWC seeks to link quantitative results with the vibe.

It’s worth saying at the outset that there aren’t many significant differences in debate language when you compare the ALP and the Coalition on the whole. The differences emerge more saliently with the individual pollies. Yet, there are a few nuanced differences between the parties, so let’s start with these.

There is a slight difference in the way in which the ALP and the Coalition use pronouns in election debates. The ALP uses slightly more pronouns (i.e. 15% of the total word count) to the Coalition (14.5%). This can lead to any number of interpretations, including an image of greater authenticity.

Heading toward a more nuanced interpretation, the ALP tends to refer to you and we (and related first-person, plural words) more than the Coalition, who for their part tend to use I (and related first-person, singular words) more than the ALP.

This usage hints at a few things debate-wise. The ALP speak with a level of underlying confidence as this is linked to use of we-words and a few other LIWC categories. The Coalition, for its use of I-words, but also more negation, hint at being less confident speakers.

On Sunday, keep an eye out for words like could, should and would as well as a spike in words like he or she because in politics these words have been linked to evasiveness and pollies getting “economical with the truth”. Ted Cruz uses a lot of words like these and consequently fed into the narrative Trump created for him as “Lying Ted”.

The ALP has used these could-, would-like words ever-so-slightly more than the Coalition in past debates. Lastly, it’s worth noting that LIWC suggests the ALP tends to frame its debate narrative in terms of “achievement” and the Coalition in terms of “power”.

But how have the individual pollies fared in terms of language use?

Individual differences in past debates

At the outset, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard emerge as the least confident debaters in terms of language use. However, it’s more complicated than this, so let’s see this through.

Abbott was, by and far, the most negative debater in these contests. He also showed, relative to the other pollies, a heightened concern with power. This can actually reflect insecurity in a candidate.

Gillard used first-person pronouns more on the whole than any of the other debaters since 1998 and this has hinted at a lack of confidence in US political contests. This confidence interpretation is enforced with her prevalent use of words like think and know alongside could and would words, the latter noted above as being linked to a certain evasiveness for some pollies.

Yet, merely noting Abbott and Gillard as “unconfident” speakers doesn’t tell the whole story and undersells their strengths as debaters. Both, from 1998 to 2013, are the most prolific users of language linked to the extensive analysis of debate topics. Abbott was the most prolific user of adjectives to categorise these topics and Gillard was the prolific speaker in her use of language associated with insight and analysis.

Also, it’s worth noting in light of all the past talk of the ‘Real Julia’ that LIWC analysis suggests she emerged as the most ‘authentic’ speaker in the debates (Kevin Rudd was a close second). And, I know what you’re thinking, but no Abbott didn’t emerge as the least authentic; this honour actually goes to Kim Beazley and Mark Latham.

Once again, we should balance out Beazley’s and Latham’s debating weaknesses and strengths (in terms of LIWC). Latham was seemingly very good at affiliation, demonstrating a commitment to allies and social relationships, and this is often viewed as a positive candidate attribute. Beazley was the least concerned with power, once again a good attribute for a candidate.

I should add as a caveat that these text analysis tools can be crude measurements of public discourse but do aim to capture the vibe. To these ends, when one is looking to do a quick and down and dirty analysis, a man’s (or woman’s) text analysis tool is his castle.

‘Look’, words to watch out for on Sunday

For the Coalition, of course, the buzz words are quite clear. Barring a shift in tactics, we might expect to hear lots about jobs, growth and tax. These were the most commonly occurring words in the budget speech. The Coalition’s slogan jobs and growth was uttered 13 times.

The ALP, on the other hand, has been using more nuanced language in setting out its vision. For instance, the ALP has two slogans this election cycle: We’ll put people first and 100 Positive Policies. The latter wasn’t mentioned at all in the budget reply and the former was uttered a single time, at the conclusion of the speech.

Many are surprised to learn that the most commonly used noun in the ALP’s budget reply (after variations of Australia(n)s and the ALP) was billions. This was used to highlight, subtly, the extent of the Coalition’s cuts to the “people” being “put first”.

Two more subtle words to look out for on Sunday are look and well at the start of a pollie’s answers. These discourse markers are pollie stalwarts, figuring prominently in debates and public discourse more generally.

Look and well serve a range of functions when they appear before a pollie’s answer. Pollies use them to buy time and gather their thoughts (e.g. look [I have something to say but I don’t know what]), to ignore or contravene what’s just been said (e.g. look [I know you asked about asylum seekers but let me tell you about the pretty flowers in my garden]) or grandstand (e.g. look [jobs and growth, people first, blah blah blah]).

So, well, let’s look to Sunday and measure the vibe of this mob. After all, politics is 10% brains, 95% muscle and the rest is good luck.

Acknowledgements: I owe my observations on pollie discourse markers to a Masters Thesis I supervised by Sean Boylan. I accessed a few of the debate transcripts via I owe some of my observations about LIWC categories and politics to academics Kayla N. Jordan and James W. Pennebaker, who run the fascinating blog Conversation

Howard Manns is a Lecturer in Linguistics at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Pre-polling gains popularity, but makes life harder for politicians and parties

Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University

Australians will choose their next government on July 2 and, with opinion polls showing the parties to be neck and neck, every vote will be important. But many voters will take the opportunity to cast their ballot well before this date.

The Australian electoral system has a number of ways in which people can vote in order to ensure all citizens can have their say, even if they are unable to attend a polling booth on election day.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which conducts federal elections, provides a number of alternatives. The most popular of these is pre-poll voting.

Pre-poll voting: who can do it?

Pre-polling is not something that can be done simply to avoid turning up to vote on election day. Citizens must satisfy one or more of the eligibility requirements set out by the AEC.

These include being more than 8km away from a polling place, an illness, religious beliefs or travelling on election day.

Other reasons that people may be allowed to vote early include work commitments or if they are outside the electorate where they are enrolled to vote on election day.

Early voting commences once the candidates have been declared and AEC has printed the ballot papers. For the upcoming federal election, pre-poll votes will begin on Tuesday, June 14.

The rise and rise of pre-poll voters

There has been a rise in the number of people voting early. The number of postal voters registered (those who register and then receive and return their ballots in the mail) rose from about 750,000 in 2007 to more than 1.3 million in 2013.

There has also been a sharp rise in the number of prepoll voters who vote at the special polling booths set up by the AEC before the election. Twenty years ago, 845,748 voters cast their ballots early. In 2013 this figure was more than 3.2 million, or about 22% of enrolled voters.

Combined, about 4.5 million citizens (of the 14.7 million enrolled) did not attend a polling booth on election day in 2013 as they had arranged to either vote by mail or had already voted early. This equates to about one in three voters across the country.

Implications of voting early

The rising number of postal voters and pre-poll voters has significant implications for parties and candidates. They must campaign earlier and stronger, especially in marginal seats (those held with a margin of less than 5%), which are crucial to deciding election outcomes.

The growing popularity of early voting contributes to the need for parties to engage in perpetual campaigning. It also stretches their resources as they have to staff early election centres for several weeks, as they would a normal booth on election day.

They can no longer rely on the bunting and other paraphernalia near the entrances of polling stations to sway undecided voters on election day either. Candidates are also faced with a smaller proportion of electors if they wait to meet and greet them as they line up to go in to vote on election day.

The convenience factor

The rising number of voters shunning polling booths on the election day, yet still participating in the democratic process, is understandable.

Changes in society, especially to working arrangements, has meant Saturdays are no longer as relaxed for many as they once may have been.

Winter elections also coincide with many sporting activities that may preclude the participants or, in the case of myriad junior leagues, their parents, from getting to their local polling booth on that particular Saturday.

While pre-poll voting is gaining popularity, there are some significant drawbacks.

A potential weakness is that voters, especially those who are not rusted-on supporters, may cast their ballot prior to all parties releasing their policies. This is problematic, as major parties often delay making big policy announcements until much closer to the election.

Indeed, it would be frustrating for a voter to hear of a policy they support or oppose after having already voted.

The rising number of pre-poll voters may also have a detrimental impact on local community groups. These often enjoy a financial windfall by holding cake stalls and sausage sizzles on election day that they then can use for local projects.

The trend from recent elections suggests a record numbers of people will vote early this year. The choices they make before the completion of the entire election campaign will go some way in deciding whether the Coalition or Labor can govern in the 45th parliament.

Zareh Ghazarian is a Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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