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Abbott voices his opinion on accents and politics

Tony Abbott claims that the Liberal and National parties will always have a ‘strong Australian accent’. Can he be serious? Aidan Wilson sounds things out.

In an apparent swipe at an ALP member with a thick Scottish accent, Tony Abbott yesterday made the bizarre claim that the Liberal and National parties will always have a ‘strong Australian accent’.

Here’s what he actually said, as reported by news.com.au (emphasis added):

We believe in a strong, home-grown policy. We believe in strong local candidates. That’s what you’ll always see from the Coalition under my leadership. We will always speak with a strong Australian accent.

It’s likely that he’s using the term ‘accent’ as a metaphor for something like focus, orientation or emphasis. Indeed, my computer’s built-in dictionary gives ‘emphasis’ as the third definition for ‘accent’, after the two more fundamental senses that we all know; a distinctive, usually regional characteristic of one’s voice, and a prosodic emphasis placed on a syllable in speech.

So he means that while the ALP imports its politicians and therefore presumably, its politics from the UK, the Liberal and National parties are home-grown, and are made up of local people with local interests and concerns.

Others may want to comment on that, but I’m a linguist; not a geopolitical scientist. So for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to assume he meant ‘accent’ in the first sense.

Clearly, this is silly. This is a coalition of parties that comprises parliamentarians such as the Oxbridge-esque Christopher Pyne, Belgian-born Mathias Cormann who sounds like the villain from Lethal Weapon 2, and of course Abbott himself who was born in the UK!

The ALP of course can’t claim exclusive Australianness in their ranks either, what with MPs such as John McTernan and Doug Cameron. And Gillard herself was born in Wales as we all know – although her thick accent more than makes up for this.

I am of course being facetious in the above two paragraphs. The reality is that discussing what accent a politician has in their voice, or an entire party for that matter, is totally irrelevant to their ability to govern. We saw a similar discussion back in 2010 when Rudd was challenged and deposed as Prime Minister by Gillard, which brought her, and her voice, under more intense scrutiny than anyone has faced before or since in Australian politics.

Fully (sic) ran a couple of posts about it at the time (here and here); the overall point of those posts, which I reiterate here, is that one’s accent, just like their attire, the size of their derriere, marital status, religion, ethnicity, sexuality and so on, are totally irrelevant to their politics.

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  • 1
    Pedantic, Balwyn
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Abbott is proving again that he is a conservative, uninformed, negative tosser. He simply says the first thing that comes to mind that will damage the Government without analysis, reflection upon accuracy or common sense. Yet it appears Australia will vote him into power. Heaven help us!

  • 2
    Jason Holandsjo
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    John McTernan (who, it is clear, Abbott’s attack was clearly aimed at) is not a MP, as you suggest. He is an employed communications adviser. This just makes Abbott’s point even sillier.

  • 3
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks Jason; I’d wrongly assumed McTernan was an MP without checking (although I didn’t explicitly name him in the post, it was clearly in reference to him).

    I’m told he’s our answer to The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker, which I find quite amusing, as ever since I watched that series I can’t shake the thought of there being a Tucker-esque advisor maintaining tight control over the PM and cabinet.

  • 4
    Holden Back
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Surely it’s Doug Cameron who might fit your brief.

    Assuming Abbott is able to hear the variety of accents within his party (Corman, Jensen etc.) and able to understand that a non-Strine accent doesn’t undermine one’s credibility as an Australian, this is just idiotic verbiage.

  • 5
    Ray Adams
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    It really depends on how the statements are contextualised, or by whom they are contextualised. The ABC places these statements in relation to the visit by Geert Wilders. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-20/abbott-rubbishes-wilders27s-views-on-islam/4529514

  • 6
    David Selmes
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    When refer to these people in your article you used all their proper names that is full name,when coming to the Prime Minister you use Ms Gillard’s last name,is this a sign of disrespect or just another Crikey ploy as as happened in the past

  • 7
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    David, that was not my intention at all. I tend to use full names when a surname isn’t entirely sufficient. I also thought that I’d mentioned her once previously, which I now see was mistaken. I tend to follow most journalistic style guides in using full names for the first reference and then a surname only in subsequent references.

  • 8
    geomac62
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Pyne has an Oxbridge type accent ? I thought it was twat type gay accent but maybe I,m getting confused by what he says rather than how he says it . Matthias I have trouble understanding though his thoughts in text might show he has intellect but I haven,t read anything of his . I think Abbott has a very strange way with words and certainly not an Australian flavour . Just because a person is sick does not mean they are pure of heart in regard to Bernie Banton . How about his comments regarding his daughter and her gift ? Maybe Abbott should start with himself .

  • 9
    Hamis Hill
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Noticed any new political parties lately whose preferences might be garnered by an “accent’ on “Australia”?
    Might be a cringe away from all that alleged “Foreign” funding (and control?) emanating out of the US fundamentalists?
    Or is that a wince from a politically hurtful truth?
    One thing is certain, Abbott’s flibertigibett anarchy of the last three years has sealed up any funding from “Australian” businesses, who are seriously insulted by his blathering nonsense; leaving “foreign” funding as his last recourse for the election.
    Won’t go down very well with that new “Australian” party!
    And, those who don’t want Scottish accents in particular, do something about giving them back their flag while you are at it.

  • 10
    AJH
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    What kind of Australian accent?

    Something like my middle-class Catholic school accent. Well rounded vowels, an inability to stop saying “haitch”, and a notable absence of slang?

    Or maybe my wife’s Chinese-Australian accent. Where “w” and “v” blend in together?

    Or my uncle’s rural Australian accent. Where whole sentences become one very long, indistinct word?

    Or my best friend’s Macedonian-Australian accent. That would be “fully sick, eh?”.

    Or perhaps a yobbo accent? “I don’t give a $h!t, f*ck the police… don’t look at me or I’ll glass ya”. They seem to be more common lately.

    Or perhaps he’ll just realise there is a wide diversity in Australia, and there is no such thing as a “typical Australian”, let alone a “typical Australian accent”.

    A truly liberal party would celebrate that diversity and let everyone pursue their own goals, without trying to shove some ideal of what it means to be “Strayan” down their throat.

  • 11
    Andybob
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Its a dog whistle for racism.

  • 12
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    I agree Andybob. Apparently Abbott was “superficially” opposed to Wilders, whereas Cory Bernardi is right out there, he was even praised by Wilders.

    A mutual adoration society??

    Is Bernardi up for re-election in September or will her be disendorsed first?

  • 13
    iggy648
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Those wogs, Marius Kloppers and Andrew Mackenzie have funny accents. Thank god they’re not in charge of anything important … Ah shit!

  • 14
    Michael Hilliard
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    geomac
    You have Pyne well & truly “sorted”, that should be pronounced with a cockney accent.

  • 15
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    He is English – married to a Kiwi and reminds me of job interviews in the UK pre the Beatles. I had a strong Welsh accent and a creditable business qualification but was told my accent would never get me a good job. I am happy I emigrated to Australia and rose to the top of my profession even though I still have a Welsh accent.

  • 16
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Its a swipe at McTernan, Gillards spin doctor. I guess his spin has failed, what will he do next?

    He was the person caught swearing at several media indenties when their commentary did not swallow his spin

  • 17
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Linking Christopher Pyne with Oxbridge stretches one’s credulity too far. The man is a semi-hysterical twat and a not so gay caballero. Has he ever uttered anything remotely complex in his parliamentary career? Oh, he’s good at getting onto his hind feet and waffling self-righteous cant and hyperbole, but what serious input does he give to his work?
    That Tony Abbott can tolerate this cheap little thespian-this creature with a crimp-wave-is an admission of the talentless time-servers who will form his potential cabinet.

  • 18
    Hamis Hill
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Yes, Venise, time to start remembering Senators Richard Alston and Helen Coonan who, as Communications Ministers, gave us Howard’s version of the NBN, ie Nothing!
    Talentless time-servers indeed!
    It will be a real “Zombie” government under Abbott.
    Memo to Mudorch: it won’t sell any newspapers!

  • 19
    Counterpoint
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    The dog whistle, was this article.

    And you all came running like flies to a lump of s—

  • 20
    Hamis Hill
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Abbott’s “conservative” accent to deliver Cameron-style Austerity and destroy Australia’s AAA rating, just as it has done in the UK?
    Austerity puts the accent on stupidity, not yet spoken in ‘Strine.
    But come September?
    Abbott: the Unnatural Disaster in waiting?
    Hoping that an accent on idiocy is absent from the coming election, but after a solid three years of media “Dumbing Down” who can be sure?

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