Demystifying Political Lingo

Australian politics is a funny area of public life. It can be flamboyant, turbulent, controversial and exciting, and is a place where wars are fought with words. Although engaging to many, these lexical battles can mean that political conversations often make younger voters feel isolated and cut off from the bigger discussion. Why? Well, the words used by politicians and in political discussions can be a bit different from the words that we use in everyday conversations, or from those we use to chat online. Below are a list of the most commonly used phrases, terms, idioms and reference points that will likely appear in the media in the lead up to the May election:

Shirt Frontis both an NRL (Rugby) and an AFL (Footy) term with two similar meanings. The latter term refers to running at an opposing player and hitting them with enough force that they crash heavily into the ground. In NRL, it refers to aggressively grabbing the jersey front of an opposing player. 

The phrase “Fair shake of the sauce bottle” rose to prominence when used by former-prime-minister Kevin Rudd. It’s another way of saying “Fair go”; which means to give everyone an equal chance at something.

The pub testis both a political and journalistic term. It is used to reflect the “average opinion” on something; if the topic was brought up at a pub, it’s the reaction from the attendees, who likely reflect the “average Australian” and their opinion. However, with a slow cultural movement away from pubs and towards other venues, it will be interesting to see if this point of reference changes over the next decade.

Democracy Sausagerefers to sausages cooked at charity barbecues held around election venues, on election day. On both state and federal election days, the democracy sausage tends to trend as a hashtag on twitter and Instagram with #democracysausage.

Captains Pickis where a leader sidesteps party discussions to make an unannounced decision based purely on what they feel should be done.

Tin Earrefers to where a leader is unsympathetic to, insensitive towards or has an inability to hear certain points of view within the party room or within community forums.

ALame Duckhas a few meanings in politics. It’s when a politician isn’t seeking reelection, where a politician or government hasn’t any real power or when a successor has already been elected, but the predecessor has to remain in power. 

White-antingrefers to the internal erosion of a group foundation, where information from a group of insiders is used to undermine the goals of a group or leader, normally through “leaking/s” to the press.

Navel Gazingis a phrase referring to excessive self-focus within a political party, at the expense of the wider community.

“Captain Rats”is an Australian slang term used to suggest that someone is mentally unstable. 

“Out of the red and back in the black”is used to describe the economic position (or claimed position) where the economy is considered out of a deficit and now in a budgetary surplus.

Dark arts of politicscovers a broad array of political behaviors, but commonly refers to a clever but deceptive method of achieving political goals.

A Dorothy Dixeris a prearranged or rehearsed question from a party member, often a back bencher or sympathetic independent, to be answered by a member of the coalition as a way of promoting themselves or governmental policy.

“Keep the bastards honest”is an iconic Australian phrase, first used by the founder of the Australian democrats in 1977 as a way of defining the party’s goal of being the main power-broker in the senate. It has since been used by countless political parties and politicians to reinforce their political goals. 

“Feed the Chooks” was first coined by 
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, premier of Queensland in the late 1980s who openly disliked the media, so much so, that Bjelke-Petersen is once quoted as saying, “The greatest thing that could happen to the state … is when we get rid of the media. Then we would live in peace and tranquility and no one would know anything”. Bjelke-Petersen used the term, “Feed the Chooks”, to refer to his press conferences with journalists. 

Parliamentary privilegegives politicians the ability to say almost anything on the floor of parliament without ramification.

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