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14 Times Australian Politics Committed Serious Word Crimes

The most heinous wordcrimes in the political lexicon.

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1. "Green lawfare"

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Tony Abbott and George Brandis have just slipped the term "green lawfare" into the national debate, as they mount an argument to stop environmental groups being able to launch action to challenge resources projects in the courts.

Attorney-general and arts minister George Brandis has shown off his flair for the written word quite a bit this week, giving the phrase "vigilante litigation" a go as well.

We guess it's a combo of law and warfare, and if you think about it enough, you can see how they're trying to get to the idea of using legal action as a weapon, but it's hardly a Girl Talk level of mashup. Still, the fact that it also sounds like the word welfare surely doesn't hurt their case.

2. "Alcopops"

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The Labor government just started saying "alcopops" like it wasn't a word they just made up in 2008 when they decided to tax pre-mixed drinks.

Then we were all saying it like it wasn't a word they just made up, and the phrase was in such common use that we all forgot what we called the beverage before that. Bubbly sugar water? Fizzy lolly bad drink? Either way, the word alcopops has been a seven year hangover that the Australian public just hasn't been able to shake.

3. "Death cult"

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Despite ISIS being known by many names around the world, Tony Abbott and his government ministers are particularly fond of describing them with a phrase that looks like it should be written in Slayer font on the bass drum of your little brother's metal band.

This is despite anti-terrorism experts warning that the term makes ISIS sound kinda cool. Which, considering the government's significant efforts to stop teens from being sucked in by jihadi propaganda online is probably not...good?


4. "Open for business"

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“I declare Australia is under new management and is once more open for business,” Tony Abbott said as he claimed victory in the 2013 election, and in doing so, birthed an awful new word baby in front of the disgusted crowd.

"Open for business" was bandied around a lot more when the government secured its trilogy of Asian free trade deals with China, Japan and Korea.

It kinda gives the impression that Tony Abbott invented the concept of trade, as if before that, Australia was just sitting on a big pile of wheat, cattle, and iron ore like a selfish little resources goblin.

5. "Chardonnay socialist"

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This one has been around since the late 80s, when chardonnay was the wine of choice for fancy people, and is a derogatory term for people who like to espouse left-wing ideas while enjoying their upper-middle class affluence.

But like its modern counterpart, "latte-sipping lefties", phrases like this based on food trends tend to date. In 2015, no serious leftie worth their pink rock salt would be seen dead sipping on a latte. We should really update it to "Costa Rica Sangre De Toro single-origin cold drip-sipping leftie" when we denigrate the left from now on.

Note: Previous sentence will also date.

6. "Boat people"


Australians have been using this phrase to refer to asylum seekers who attempt to get to Australia on a boat since the arrival of a boat carrying Vietnamese refugees fleeing war. It's been a cornerstone of our language since then, encapsulating our particular national anxiety about immigrants based on the method of transportation they use.

The Howard government decided that wasn't quite dehumanising enough (after all, it still refers to them as "people"), so they took it a step further, referring to asylum seekers as "illegal maritime arrivals’’, a phrase that was dropped by Labor and then taken up again by the Abbott government in 2013.

Being an island nation, there are really only two options for getting to Australia, yet for some strange reason, "plane people" has never really caught on.

7. "Dorothy Dixer"

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Usually a question starting with "Will the minister inform the House...?" Dorothy Dixers are one of those tactics in parliamentary question time that are mostly terrible, but they're too much of an institution to get rid of now.

The term refers to those pre-arranged questions asked by a government MP to a minister so they can launch into a big speech about their portfolio and espouse what a legend they are. It's basically a free kick for the minister to take up some time before they are tackled by the opposition.

It comes from Dorothy Dix, the pen name for an American journalist with an advice column, but her answers always seemed to fit the question a little too well, as if she'd just made it all up herself.

Basically, Dorothy Dixers are questions in parliament that are more staged than the moon landing. Just joking, the moon landing was PROBABLY real.


8. "Coward punch"

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The phrase that launched a thousand lockouts, "coward punch" was adopted by the NSW government and police after a series of tragic incidents where young men were killed in single-punch attacks on the street. The more commonly used "king hit" was deemed too cool-sounding, and it was decided that we should all call them coward punches to shame the attackers.

Unfortunately, Australia loves a nickname, and soon the saturation of the phrase in the media in the debate over late-night lockout laws led to coward punches being affectionately dubbed "cowies".

9. "Age of entitlement"

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In a speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, Joe Hockey declared that the age of entitlement was over, and it became a key selling point in his first budget.

Along with "lifters and leaners" and "living within our means", "age of entitlement" was part of a triumvirate of catch phrases that could all just be replaced with "welfare is bad".

But the problem with such pithy phrases is that it's very easy to come back and bite you on the arse. That came to pass when Hockey was snapped puffing on a cigar with the finance minister outside the Treasury.

10. "Working families"

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The phrase "working families" worked harder than any other phrase during Kevin Rudd's time as prime minister.

In a 2007 leadership debate he used it 16 times, and gave it a good working out since then too.

The beauty/horror of "working families" is that it draws on two undeniably "good" things. How can you possibly be against working? What sort of monster stands against families? Put them together and it's a political bulletproof vest.

Sure it raises more questions than it answers, like aren't all families working families in some way? Both parents? One parent? Do children have to work as tiny little chimney-sweeps to qualify? Who cares! It sounds great!

11. "Dole bludger"

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According to the ANU National Dictionary Centre, the term "bludger" has been around since the end of the nineteenth century, and comes from a term used to refer someone who made their living from prostitutes. So basically a pimp. Then it evolved to just be a way of talking about someone who didn't make an honest living.

"Dole bludger" was first used in 1976 in the magazine The Bulletin: "A genuine dole bludger, a particularly literate young man... explained that he wasn't bothering to look for work any more."

It's been widely used by politicians since then to condemn unemployed people who exploit the welfare system. But since a few MPs from both sides of politics have been exploiting their expenses system of late, we doubt we'll hear a peep about dole bludgers until things quiet down, and the haunting whir of helicopter blades is well out of earshot.

12. "Marriage integrity"

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Social services minister and opposer of same-sex marriage Scott Morrison coined this doozy in a tweet in July.

"I support maintaining marriage integrity & getting on with the job of economic and national security," he said, unleashing that new descriptor into the poor, undeserving world.

Some will say that "marriage equality" is also just a made up thing, but really, we have a word for "marriage integrity" already. It's "marriage" and there's quite a few Australians who would like to get in on that when the government is ready to pass it, instead of coming up with new words for something that already exists.

13. "Non-core promises"

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When is a promise not a promise? When it's a non-core promise of course!

This wonderful example of political dickheadery was pioneered by John Howard after he broke election promises not to make cuts to higher education and the ABC. He said circumstances had changed and those ones weren't core promises, they were non-core promises and therefore totally didn't count. Did anyone buy it? No not really, but good on him for giving it a go.

14. "Jobs of the 21st Century"

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Bill Shorten loves to talk about the "jobs of the 21st century", just as much as Tony Abbott loves to talk about the "roads of the 21st century" because it sounds really futuristic and cool, even though we've been in the 21st century for the last 15 years.

Some would say that the 21st century does sound like the future if you're living in the past, but I'll leave that zinger for Shorten.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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