Mind Your Language, Australia


There’s been a lot of guff talked lately about Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to instruct all members of his department to refer to asylum seekers as “illegal arrivals”, rather than the more informal, relaxed terminology of “asylum seekers”, “refugees”, “human beings”, or “brownies”. Morrison’s instructions have been deemed cruel, inhuman, and weaselly. Some people have even complained that the new language requirements are “Orwellian”.

Now this is a serious charge to make against any politician, and I for one think those critics have got it wrong. The “Orwellian” tag seems terribly unfair, and it may be that they’ve been confused by the fact that Scott Morrison is indistinguishable from a pig, or that listening to him is like having a cage of rats on your head. Certainly he’s Orwellian in these senses, but the language directive? Simply commonsense, surely. I mean it is a decision rooted in simple factual reality: the only reason Morrison wants people to CALL them “illegal arrivals” is that it is an indisputable FACT that he wants people to THINK they’re illegal arrivals. Why should we quibble?

In any case, it’s simply not true that this is some kind of exceptionalism. Leaked cabinet documents show that the Immigration Department is far from the only sector of government to implement a change of language. In Abbott’s Australia, all departments will have to smarten up their verbiage to make sure it accurately reflects approved truths.

Education: In Christopher Pyne’s fun fiefdom, we’re going to see big changes in the way language is used to create successful outcomes. For a start there will be no more “schools”: departmental staff are to refer to them at all times as “child-farms”. Employees of child-farms are no longer to be known as “teachers”, but rather “child-stand-nearers”. Also, studies have shown that the word “learning” tends to create unrealistic expectations, so all references to learning will be replaced by “fact-insertion”. Also, studies have shown that the word “studies” is inaccurate, and will be swapped out for “naps”.

Defence: In this new era of international cooperation, it is needlessly antagonistic to refer to defence forces as “armies”. Henceforth the Australian Army must be referred to in all official communications as “the Australian Kill-Posse”, while the Navy will be referred to as “Gun-Sharks” and the Air Force as “Decepticons”. In addition, as a pre-emptive measure given recent legal difficulties, the Australian Defence Force Academy will be renamed to “The Australian Defence Force Poontangarium and Wet Bar”.

Health: Much as in Education, the word “health” has been found to build up unreasonable hope in the populace, so the Health Department itself will henceforth be known as “Sick People Australia Ltd”. Hospitals must no longer refer to patients by any name but the official term, “pre-corpses”, and surgery should always be called “meat carpentry” to avoid confusion. Also, Health Minister Peter Dutton has issued an official memo stating that the human body now only contains one lung.

Environment: All staff of the Department of Environment are instructed to refrain from any public admissions that the environment exists. “Climate change” is to be phased out in favour of “climate same-staying”, and “carbon emissions” are to be referred to as “capitalism-enriched oxygen”. Trees are now “raw furniture”, and the Great Barrier Reef will henceforth be officially known as “The Great Eastern Fish Highway”. Minister Greg Hunt also requests that public servants stop calling him “Mike”.

Treasury: Treasurer Joe Hockey, in an effort to stop the confusing jargon and obfuscating tech-speak of the Labor years, proposes replacing the “Budget” with the new “Numbers Of Money Counting Word Book”. Taxation will from now on be referred to by the more honest and straightforward “Giz It”, and fiscal policy as a whole will be known as “Joe’s Dollaroo Machine”. Instead of the vague “surplus” and “deficit” we will now refer to “the government mega-wallet” and “Shhhh”. Government debt will be renamed “government happiness”, and government bonds will now be denoted simply by an awkward shrug. In order to simplify and streamline budgetary processes, Treasury will cease using any numbers greater than six.

Communications: The entire department is to be rebranded, with the title “Department of Communications” to be replaced on all documents by the lyrics to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk”. All references to the “National Broadband Network” will now become references to “Malcolm’s winning smile”, and the rather dull “fibre to the node” will be switched to the catchier “Internet robot lasers”. The Minister himself is henceforth to be dubbed “Electric Pope Turnbull”.

Attorney-General: There will be no change to terminology in this department, but all staff will be required at all times to say the words “Attorney-General George Brandis” in an extremely sarcastic way.

With these new measures in place we will soon see an end to the doubletalk and euphemistic shilly-shallying so familiar in governments of the past, and move forward as a sincere, robust nation. It’s not just about stopping illegal arrivals getting on their sea-trams and attempting to claim wussylum. It’s not just about rolling back the policies of the Rudd-Gillard Holocaust. It’s about progressing confidently into the not-past, building a muscly and anti-scaredy cat country for our mini-citizens to live in. And under Boss Hog Abbott and his Super Telling You What To Do Nice Suit Squadron, I truly believe that we can put yesterday behind us, and step into Opposite-Yesterday with faith in the dream of a new Australiberalia.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.