Words from the campaign trail

The vanquisher and the vanquished: Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd

by Julia Robinson

At last the dust has settled after the federal election. During the campaign we heard arguments, promises, accusations, assertions, rebuttals, and speeches from our politicians, all couched in language designed to influence the way Australians vote. And we heard and read even more commentary from broadcasters, journalists and social media commentators on the election. This week we look at the memorable words and phrases—some Australian, some not—that were associated with Election 2013.

budget black hole—the $30 billion deficit in the federal budget. An astronomical metaphor for an earthly phenomenon. The term ‘black hole’, applied to the strong gravitational field thought to be caused by the collapse of a massive star, was first recorded in 1964. It was picked up in the US as a colourful term for a budget deficit in the 1980s. During this Australian election campaign it had a good run, prompting Age journalist Jonathan Holmes to tweet plaintively: ‘The silliest and most irritating cliche of the election: ‘black hole‘. Shortfall, deficit, gap. Keep ‘black hole‘ for astrophysics.’ Good luck with that, Jonathan.

captain’s pickcaptain’s call—’a sporting term meaning a unilateral decision made by the captain of a team, usually regarding the choice of a team member’. Recently it has been used in a transferred sense in the political sphere. Ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a captain’s pick when she chose Nova Peris as a Northern Territory senate candidate, and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd chose Peter Beattie as his captain’s pick for a lower house candidate in a Queensland electorate. Opposition leader Tony Abbott made a captain’s call in choosing to give Coalition preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens.

daggy dad moment—what Tony Abbott had when he commented on a candidate’s sex appeal (see below), according to daughter Bridget.  Daggy is Australian for unfashionable or outdated, and is often used affectionately. ‘As the kids suggested to me, I had a dad moment’, Mr Abbott said. ‘A daggy dad moment.’

dullathon—a description of the first televised leaders’ debate, which was generally regarded as lacklustre. It was enlivened by the worm (see below).

fair dinkum—’honest, reliable, genuine’. A classic Australian idiom used by the leaders of the two main parties right at the start of the campaign to establish their Aussie credentials. Who’s the most fair dinkum? Why, the politician currently wooing your vote, of course.

folks—Gough Whitlam addressed Australians as ‘men and women of Australia’, but Kevin Rudd often uses the more informal folks as a form of address, and also as a general term for ‘people’.  In the community forum in Brisbane in the second debate between leaders, he extended the term to include asylum seekers arriving by sea, referring to them as folks in boats.

keep the bastards honest—the Democrats’ catchphrase, coined by leader Don Chipp in 1980, was taken up by at least two people in this election, neither of them Democrats. Labor hopeful Peter Beattie railed against LNP domination in Queensland: ‘Everybody knows that if you don’t have balance in politics, you don’t have anyone to keep the bastards honest.’ Businessman John Singleton bankrolled candidates for ‘Team Central Coast’, saying that the major parties took the electorate for granted: ‘Someone has to keep the bastards honest.’

mate—the use of mate was on display at the second leaders’ debate in Brisbane, when things turned sour. Tony Abbott said of Kevin Rudd: ‘does this guy ever shut up?’, and Kevin Rudd responded with: ‘We’re having a discussion mate.’ Mate in this context does not imply ‘you are my friend’. The nuance is illustrated by Bill Hayden’s comment after losing the Labor leadership in 1983: ‘When they call you ‘mate’ in the NSW Labor Party it is like getting a kiss from the Mafia’. See also sex appeal.

Self-described media tart Peter Beattie

media tart —’a person who actively seeks the media limelight’, as used by the original self-described media tart, Peter Beattie, ex-premier of Queensland. On the Sunday after the election Peter Beattie told reporters that ‘Queensland has got a new media tart and it is not me’. He was referring to billionaire candidate Clive Palmer.

netball dad—another description of Tony Abbott by one of his daughters. Are netball dads (who give advice such as ‘always get back up and don’t forget to shake hands’) daggier than daggy dads?

people’s forum—a description of the second televised leaders debate in Brisbane between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. In this the leaders answered questions from members of the audience. Also known as a community forum and a town-hall style debate. See also dullathon.

PEFO—an acronym for ‘Pre-election Fiscal Outlook’, an update of figures underlying the federal budget, released by Treasury and the Department of Finance early in the election campaign. It followed close on the heels of the Government’s MYEFO—the ‘Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook’. MYEFOs and PEFOs have been around since the late 1990s.

photobombing—’the act of sabotaging a photo opportunity’, as demonstrated by a camera-savvy four-year-old who stole the limelight from Kevin Rudd.

robopolling—collecting poll responses by sending interactive automated telephone calls inviting the recipients to participate in a survey. Used in the US from the mid-2000s, and recorded in Australia in the last two years. A step on from robocalls—automated telephone calls delivering a message on behalf of a local candidate for election, a practice that is recorded from 1998 in the US, and in the mid-2000s in Australia.

Seinfeld election—an election about nothing. In reference to the US television comedy Seinfeld, famously promoted as a ‘show about nothing’, the term Seinfeld election was first used in the US in 1998 during a mid-term congressional election campaign. Ex-Labor leader Mark Latham was the first to use it in an Australian context, in 2007. In 2013 the CEO of a ‘youth-based digital platform’ appealed to young voters to become engaged in the political process, and not allow this election to become ‘another Seinfeld election about nothing’.

Kevin Rudd's selfie including his shaving wound

selfie—’a photo you take of yourself’, often for the purposes of posting on social media. In this election selfies were big, usually taken on a smart phone with a politician grinning beside the photographer. Kevin Rudd kicked off the election by posting a selfie of a shaving accident on Twitter.

sex appeal— the term that got opposition leader Tony Abbott in hot water in week two of the campaign, in describing the attributes of a female Liberal candidate. He disputed the accusations of sexism after the fact by saying: ‘She’s a mate of mine.’ That’s mate in the Australian sense, of course—’a person with whom the bonds of close friendship are acknowledged’.

suppository of knowledge —Tony Abbott’s malapropism. What he really meant to say was repository of knowledge.

tit banter—the content of a candidate’s website that resulted in his disendorsement by the Liberal Party, as described by the candidate himself.

Singer Miley Cyrus twerks at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards

twerk—recently added to Oxford Dictionaries Online with this definition ‘dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance’. Mining magnate and billionaire candidate Clive Palmer surprised some with his rendition of the twerk.

weapons of mass distraction—Kevin Rudd’s ‘suppository of knowledge’ moment. A malapropism for weapons of mass destruction.

wombat—’any of several thickset, burrowing, herbivorous marsupials of the family Vombatidae of southern and eastern Australia including Tasmania’. Wombats got a look in several times during this campaign, especially in the phrase on the wombat trail, a description of the campaign route taken, especially by National Party candidates, through electorates in the bush.  The 2013 campaign saw candidates from several political parties on the wombat trail. A figurative use of wombat—’a slow or stupid person’—was used by a Labor voter ‘who assured the Prime Minister that bad polls were nothing to worry about. “Them polls are a bunch of wombats!” he said’. (Canberra Times, 20 August 2013)

worm—’a line graph tracking audience reaction to a televised election debate, shown in real time at the bottom of the screen, moving up or down according to viewer response to the speaker’. Introduced to Australian federal election debates in 2007, the worm is said by some to be influential in forming viewer opinion.

Please share your favourite words and phrases from the 2013 federal election campaign in the comments section. Do you have any favourites from previous elections?