Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Studies in Australian Political Rhetoric

Studies in Australian Political Rhetoric

John Uhr
Ryan Walter
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Studies in Australian Political Rhetoric
    Book Description:

    This edited collection includes eleven major case studies and one general review of rhetorical contest in Australian politics. The volume showcases the variety of methods available for studying political speech, including historical, theoretical, institutional, and linguistic analyses, and demonstrates the centrality of language use to democratic politics. The chapters reveal errors in rhetorical strategy, the multiple and unstable standards for public speech in Australia, and the links between rhetoric and action. The length of Australian political speech is traversed, from pre-Federation to the Gillard minority government (2010–13), and the topics similarly range from Alfred Deakin’s nation building to Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations. This fresh collection is intended to stimulate and advance the study of political rhetoric in Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-87-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction

    • What’s at stake in Australian political rhetoric?
      (pp. 3-16)
      John Kane

      Rhetoric — generally defined as the art of discourse — has been distrusted as deceptive or subversive ever since the Greek sophists made a living instructing how to make the weaker argument seem the stronger in the law courts, or how to use persuasion to win in politics. Still today, people commonly dismiss rhetoric as ‘mere rhetoric’ — an effusion of ineffectual words by slippery politicians, concealing more than it reveals.¹

      Yet rhetoric remains central to democratic politics, which necessarily depend more fundamentally on the power of persuasion than on the force of command. Persuasion relies crucially on explanation and...

  6. Part I: Just rhetoric?: Language and behaviour

    • 1. ‘I am sorry’: Prime ministerial apology as transformational leadership
      (pp. 19-32)
      Stephen Mills

      The apology to the Stolen Generations delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the House of Representatives in February 2008 remains a distinctive landmark in Australian political life.¹ Yet, viewed from a distance of five years, Rudd’s speech emerges as but one, albeit a significant one, in a sequence of apologies made by Australian politicians. Before Rudd, state and territory parliaments delivered apologies recommended by theBringing them home(1997) report of the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. Following his apology to the Stolen Generations, Rudd...

    • 2. Economic management, rhetorical tactics, and the cost of promises
      (pp. 33-62)
      Ryan Walter

      This chapter is concerned with the language that is used to legitimate governmental action and the dynamics that can arise between divergent tactics for legitimation. The focus is those actions that are normally referred to as fiscal policy, the high moment of which is the annual presentation of the federal budget, for which spending priorities are identified, new programs announced, and the fate of older policy initiatives is often sealed. Public political speech in relation to budgets has typically been a prized site for discerning the ideological orientation of political parties and individual politicians, especially regarding the purported diminution of...

    • 3. Leaders and legitimacy: Lessons from two Labor leadership transitions
      (pp. 63-84)
      Jennifer Rayner

      In modern Australian political history, few events have generated as much comment and controversy as the sacking of first-term prime minister Kevin Rudd. With its dramatic mid-winter setting and colourful cast of conspirators, Rudd’s replacement by his then-deputy, Julia Gillard, captured the public imagination in a way that few other political events have since the Dismissal.

      The level of public, media and scholarly attention paid to this event is perhaps not surprising, given at that time only one other Labor prime minister — Bob Hawke — had ever been forced from the party’s leadership while still occupying the Lodge. The...

    • 4. Unintended rhetoric: The ‘Little children are sacred’ report
      (pp. 85-98)
      Barry Hindess

      Aristotle’s familiar conception of rhetoric as ‘the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion’, corresponds to theMerriam-Websterdefinitions 1 and 2.a. It suggests that rhetoric is something in which one might be trained and, after training, put to use. Rhetoric, in this understanding, carries with it a sense of intention. One employs rhetoric with the intention of setting a framework for discussion, or of persuading others to do or think something, or not to do so. TheMerriam-Websterdefinition 2.b carries no such sense, except in the case of insincerity: rhetoric refers to features...

    • 5. The gilded cage: Rhetorical path dependency in Australian politics
      (pp. 99-118)
      Dennis Grube

      Every writer at the start of a new project is confronted by something that is at once terrifying and liberating — a blank piece of paper. They are given a clean slate on which to shape and build a story full of rich characters and events that respond to each push of the writer’s pen. In politics, rhetorical actors seldom enjoy the luxury of a clean piece of paper. Each speech act does not stand alone as a fresh start, but is rather the next in a long line of speeches, media statements and framing narratives that have helped to...

  7. Part II: Standards of rhetoric

    • 6. Looking backwards to the future: The evolving tradition of ideal political rhetoric in Australia
      (pp. 121-142)
      Mark Rolfe

      In 2007 Robert Manne extolled the television seriesThe West Wingas a model for what leaders and political rhetoric should be in contrast to ‘what … democratic politics is not’ under John Howard, ‘one of the most unscrupulous but effective politicians in our history’. The program is ‘so attractive (and perhaps ultimately fictitious)’ because ‘despite their willingness to play the game according to its inescapable rules, no corrosion of character has taken place in any of the players’. There was real grand debate between Senator Arnie Vinick, played by Alan Alda, and Congressman Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits....

    • 7. Whistling the dog
      (pp. 143-154)
      Barry Hindess

      To rule out possible misunderstanding, I should say that I come to bury the idea of dog whistling, not to praise it. The term ‘dog-whistle politics’ was widely used in the 1990s and early 2000s by commentators on the Left in Australia to describe, and often to deplore, what were seen as rhetorical attempts by the Prime Minister John Howard and his supporters to appeal to anti-immigrant sentiments within the electorate, but to do so in such a way as to avoid incurring the charge of racism. It was alleged that, while the propositional content of Howard’s speeches was often...

    • 8. Debating the Speaker
      (pp. 155-174)
      John Uhr

      Rhetoric refers to the political language used by Australian politicians to lead and shape public opinion. Successful rhetoric is influential rhetoric: words that form a following. Effective rhetoric can be true or false or some mixture in between. Democratic theories about political rhetoric tend to avoid strict stipulations about truthfulness or falsity, referring more to the process of facilitating fair debate among competing political players, rather than the content of that debate. Democratic political rhetoric faces norms of due process about the public scrutiny and accountability of political debaters. I frame a form of accountability for Australian political rhetoric, providing...

  8. Part III: The content of rhetoric

    • 9. ‘The maximum of good citizenship’: Citizenship and nation building in Alfred Deakin’s post-Federation speeches
      (pp. 177-194)
      Mark Hearn and Ian Tregenza

      By general consensus Australia’s second prime minister, Alfred Deakin (1856-1919), was the most significant political leader in the decade following Federation. A major architect of the movement towards Federation, Deakin also drove many of the key reforms and policy initiatives of the post-Federation liberal, nation-building project, including immigration restriction, industrial arbitration and tariff protection. His achievements are all the more remarkable considering the general political instability he faced where fluid and volatile party allegiances and minority governments were the norm. Despite these obstacles, the support Deakin was able to gain for these initiatives owed much to his capacity to persuade....

    • 10. The rise and fall of economic rationalism
      (pp. 195-220)
      Geoffrey Stokes

      The term economic rationalism is one of political categorisation, commendation and criticism. Although economic rationalist thought and policy were part of a broader international trend, the term itself represents a particularly Australian contribution to political rhetoric. First deployed in the 1970s to commend the ‘economic rationality’ of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government, the term came to increasing prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s to disparage market-oriented economic policies, economics and economists. During this later period, advocates and opponents of the economic reforms of the successive Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating (1983-96) often argued their case within...

    • 11. Languages of neoliberal critique: The production of coercive government in the Northern Territory intervention
      (pp. 221-240)
      Melissa Lovell

      A critical approach to the study of rhetoric can help us to better understand the patterns of political discourse that normalise coercive approaches to government. This critical approach is especially necessary for the study of the governance of Australian Aboriginal Affairs. Historically, representations of Aboriginal peoples as uncivilised, violent and irrational have played a crucial role in the legitimation of colonialist policies. The work of postcolonial scholars has led to a growing acceptance among academic circles of theconstructednature of our knowledge about culture and identity. Furthermore, we can understand the process of identity construction — of ourselves and...

  9. Conclusion

    • Studying Australian political rhetoric
      (pp. 243-248)
      John Uhr and Ryan Walter

      This book arose from a conference at the School of Politics and International Relations at The Australian National University, held in May 2013, and supported by an Australian Research Council grant awarded to the editors to study Australian political rhetoric. The conference was conceived with one overarching aim in view: to demonstrate the centrality of rhetoric to democratic politics. If rhetoric is broadly conceived as persuasive language use, then it is a daily activity for politicians, who must constantly communicate, inform, persuade, attack and defend, cajole, scare, conceal, while performing many other actions besides. Language use represents the core of...