05 May 2008

Another term for the doublespeak lexicon?

On yesterday's ABC TV Insiders Treasurer Wayne Swan gave a very broad definition of "working families":

BARRIE CASSIDY: You make constant references to working families, that they have to be protected, but what are couples without kids supposed to think, what about singles, pensioners, the unemployed? You never say you're setting out to protect them?

WAYNE SWAN: We certainly do. We not only protect them, we support them. When I talk about low and middle income families, I talk about people across the...

BARRIE CASSIDY: No you don't, you talk about working families.

WAYNE SWAN: I talk about pensioners as well, I talk about singles on low incomes, they're all part of the Australian family, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So who's not? Who do you exclude? Who are you not setting out to protect?

WAYNE SWAN: I'm not setting out to exclude anyone. When I'm talking about people on modest incomes, low incomes, modest incomes, I'm talking about all people in the community, but the people out there that are doing it really tough at moment are those people who are trying to raise a few children, I'm not saying someone on a low income or pension income isn't doing it tough, but we do have to make sure that those people that are raising the next generation of young Australians can get by, so that in the future our economy is not only economically healthy, but socially healthy.

In The Age (via the Oz's Cut & Paste) Michelle Grattan explains:

If you feel like throwing a heavy object at the TV every time Kevin Rudd intones about working families - because you're not part of one - take heart. Like much else in politics, things are not as they seem. A working family apparently does not actually have to work or, indeed, be a family in the conventional sense.

A talkback caller on Friday got Kevin to explain. The questioner was worried about singles and the elderly, who were apparently not in the favoured working families circle.

Here is the definitive explanation. Excuse the Kevinese. "Well, 'families' we use in just a very broad sense. I mean, if you're a single person who is a pensioner or a self-funded retiree, or someone who is being provided care by a carer, everyone is part of a broader family. So, when we say 'working families', we're not talking about some nuclear family of Mum, Dad and two kids; it's people who are out there in a set of family relationships either under one roof or beyond one roof, who are under financial pressure. And that means our senior Australians as well."

There you have it. "Working families" is a political frame more than an objective reality.

One advantage of talking about working families compared with, say, middle Australia is that it taps into a policy area of Labor's natural advantage ... If that's the political rationale for the endless repetition of working families, the downside is that inevitably some of those who are obviously not families nor working will say, "What about us?" Hence the stretch to put them inside the tent.

As George Orwell said years ago about this kind of language, it aims to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.

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