Archive for the ‘John Howard’ Category

Political Speak: We believe vs. the Facts

With elections in South Australia and Tasmania this coming weekend, as well as a Federal election and Victorian election due sometime this year, it is appropriate to look at political language – and I’m not talking about politically correct language.

In election mode you will hear speakers from all sides of politics telling us what is the right way to think on a particular topic. Unfortunately though, the words that they use will often detract from the message given. For example:

When someone prefaces a comment with ‘We believe…’ or ‘The labor/Liberal party believes…’ they do so to give power to their statement. Unfortunately it does the opposite. When you add statements such as ‘We believe’ you are by definition offering an opinion. And as we all know, opinions are never wrong – but they are debateable.

What should be done instead of offering an opinion? Simply state your opinion as a fact.

Instead of saying, ‘We believe putting in a highway is the best thing to do’ say, ‘Putting in a highway is the best thing to do.’ The difference is subtle but profound. Your audience is no longer hearing an opinion, but a fact. Facts are much harder to argue with than opinions.

Next time you hear your local Poli offer their opinion, ask yourself if you would believe them more if they gave you a fact instead.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated.


Darren Fleming

Rudd’s Sorry Speech – A Lesson in Arguing.

It is not often that a national leader gets to choose the moment that defines their leadership. Kevin Rudd has been fortunate in that he choose the time, place and topic for which he will be remembered. In the first of many looks of this speech, I want to examine the skill that Rudd’s speech writers used to attack the previous Howard government that refused to say sorry.

(For the international readers, from 1901 to the early 1970s, the Australian Government had a policy of systematic forced removal of indigenous children from their parents. It is estimated that about 50,000 children were removed from their parents. These children are now known as the Stolen Generation.)

When Rudd stood to say sorry to the stolen generation, he was taking the exact opposite position of former Prime Minister John Howard. Whilst it would have been tempting to say that he was going to right the wrong that Howard would not, he was more tactful than that. Instead he attacked the argument and some of the key terms that Howard relied on.

Then first was that the Stolen Generation were in fact real people. He told us the story of Nanna Nungala Fejo. She was taken from her parents when she was just 4 years old. He told us her story of being removed, living in missions and how she and her sisters were randomly placed in 3 lines and split up again. Eventually Nannas’ mum died, never having seen or heard from her children again. By giving us a real story, Rudd was able to get us to see a glimpse inside the stolen generation.

Secondly, he attacked the in-actions of previous governments, but not Howard directly. He criticised how previous governments had suspended their ‘… most basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong,’ and treated the episode as an, ‘intellectual curiosity.’ He also pointed out that there had been ‘stoney silence for more than a decade’ about the need to say sorry. This is a referral to Howards term in office, and set the stage for the next line of argument.

Finally, Rudd hit on Howard’s stoic argument of ‘intergenerational responsibility’. Howard argued that as it was not our generation that had committed the acts, we should not have to say sorry. This was Rudd’s shortest argument, but most directed at Howard. He simply stated that these atrocities were happening as late as the … ‘early 1970s.’ He then followed this up with ‘There are still serving members of this parliament who were first elected to this place in the early 1970s.’ This was a direct reference to the fact that Howard was in parliament when children were being removed. This attack was short, sharp and well aimed.

So what can we learn from Rudds’ speech? The first is how to structure a line of argument. By having the longest argument first, Rudd set the ground work for what was to come. Secondly, he appealed to our emotions with the use of the stories that we could relate too. Finally, he showed us that you can make pointed and direct attacks on your opposition without mentioning their name. This way you do not stoop to the lows that you are attacking.

How can you use this today at work? When you are pitching products, ideas or plans, put thought into how you will structure your argument. Never directly attack another person, product or company. Instead, show how you are the alternative to other options. Show your benefits and what they can mean to those you are trying to impress. USe stories to appeal to your audiences emotions, and follow that up with good sound logic.

‘Til next time,


Darren Fleming

Kevin Rudd Vs. Obama

There was a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Stephanie Peatling analysing the public speaking skills of the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with those of US Presidential Hopeful Barack Obama.  It’s a great article that highlights the different styles of speaking of recent Australian political leaders and compares them to Obama.  They are like chalk and cheese!

The full article can be found here.  I have also copied the full article below as I do not know for how long the link will work.

Obama offers hope for the art of speechmaking

Stephanie Peatling
January 21, 2008
Cast your mind back to election night. It’s not that long ago, not even two months. It’s hard, because to go there is to remember the speech Kevin Rudd gave as he claimed victory for the Labor Party after 11 grim years in Opposition.An occasion, one might think, for a rousing, stirring, passionate speech full of hope and optimism.Instead, there was a lengthy dissertation on the task ahead and a short, sharp reminder that even though the night was one for celebration it would be followed by an early morning of work – a none too subtle hint to staff not to let frivolity get in the way of a clear head.For months before that night Rudd had kept the media entertained with his frequent use of metaphors – the bridge too far, the fork in the road, the base camp of Everest. He is a far cry from the walking thesaurus that was Kim Beazley, a Labor leader who would never say “unquestioning underling” when “myrmidon” would do; would never use “wordy” when “prolix” could be dusted off; or “useless activity” when “boondoggle” was there for the taking.A press gallery favourite was “termagant”, which Beazley once hurled at Tony Abbott, who no doubt scurried to check its meaning (“an imaginary Muslim deity portrayed as a violent and overbearing character in medieval mystery plays”) before responding.

But although Beazley tossed out words not used by the average person for several decades, it was done with delight and love for language. He would never have told journalists he did not want the gathering of federal, state and territory leaders known as the Council of Australian Governments “to become a sort of dead horse”.

“I want it to be a workhorse, not a dead horse. I don’t want to whip it. I just want to stroke it gently … Just lately the poetry’s lacking. But my intention is to meet it regularly and actually turn it into a real workhorse of the Federation,” Rudd said in one of his first press conferences as Prime Minister.

John Howard ushered in a new era of no-frills speaking and there is not yet much evidence to suggest the new Prime Minister wants to return to the sweeping verbal landscapes of Paul Keating. Rudd’s use of language so far is functional and administrative. In English, at least. In Mandarin he seems to get a far more appreciative response.

Rudd does have a staffer whose job includes speechwriting but not someone whose only job is speechwriting. Keating had the lyrical Don Watson as his speechwriter. Before him went Graham Freudenberg, the great Labor speechwriter who wrote Arthur Calwell’s 1965 censure of the Vietnam War, Gough Whitlam’s “It’s Time” speech of 1972 and also wrote for Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth, Simon Crean, Bob Carr and Sir William Deane.

Freudenberg wrote in his elegant autobiography, A Figure Of Speech, that his retirement at the age of 70 allowed him to take a new interest in the role of political language and speeches. He attributed much of his interest to George Bush, whose presidency, he wrote, is “being defined by the speeches and the phrase-making of his speechwriters”.“The United States seemed to have become a rhetocracy, ruled by professional wordsmiths: ‘axis of evil’, ‘war on terror’ and ‘shock and awe’ are all speechwriters’ phrases … Despite my professional admiration for the craftsmanship of Bush’s speeches, the whole process seemed to me an absurd and dangerous separation of rhetoric and emotion from substance, argument and reason.”Freudenberg goes on to cite a 2004 essay by the philosopher Raimond Gaita, who speculated that the running down of political language was due to the fundamental cynicism among voters, who, instead of seeing the possibilities for good in politics, saw only the chances for personal gain and self-protection.Maybe the language of Australian politics merely reflects the broader popular culture, with its Big Brother participants and Corey Worthingtons and seeming lack of room or desire for elegance and subtlety.

But maybe there is hope.

Thousands of Americans are responding to the speeches of Barack Obama, whose emotive use of language is propelling him towards the White House.

“Years from now, you’ll look back and you’ll say that this was the moment, this was the place where America remembered what it means to hope,” Obama told people gathered to hear him claim victory in the Iowa primary earlier this month.

“For many months, we’ve been teased, even derided, for talking about hope. But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.”

If Americans can respond so enthusiastically to such flair there is no reason to doubt Australians would do the same.

All we need is for someone to start speaking.

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