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Politics

Jul 1, 2016

LOTEs in the Election: your guide to linguistically-talented candidates (2016 edition)

It's election time again! But where have all the LOTE-speaking candidates gone? And why are they hiding? Allie Severin takes a look at the linguistic talents of this year's candidates for the Federal Election.

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The Federal Election is almost upon us. In case you’re not one of the millions of Australians who are counting down the days because you cannot wait for this seemingly never-ending campaign to be over, a heads-up: it’s tomorrow! Don’t forget to exercise your democratic rights so you can have your say/legitimately complain if you don’t like who gets in/avoid a fine/earn that Democracy Sausage!

As Greg Dickson discussed last election here at Fully Sic, much of Australian election campaigns probably gives the impression that all the candidates are monolingual. Once again, this isn’t actually the case, but it’s hard to find evidence of candidates advertising their linguistic abilities. So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to provide you with another starter’s guide for multilingual candidates:

Eric Abetz (LNP, Tasmanian Senate) was born in Germany and migrated to Australia at the age of 3. He spoke German at home as a child. He does not appear to use the language when campaigning. Given some of the things people have said about him based on his German heritage, this is unfortunately not that surprising.

Adam Bandt (Greens; Melbourne, VIC) speaks German and used the language in an interview in 2013. His language skills aren’t perfect though and he doesn’t seem to have repeated his attempt this time around.

Julia Banks (LNP; Chisholm, VIC) speaks Greek. She has campaigned in Greek and switched between Greek and English in her interview with SBS’s Greek program and has used the language while campaigning in Oakleigh. Her campaign has also featured in Greek language newspapers, which she proudly shared on her Facebook page. She also has campaign materials printed in Chinese, reflecting a major demographic of her potential electorate.

Alex Bhathal (Greens; Batman, VIC) appeared on SBS’s Hindi program, but spoke English. It’s possible that she speaks Hindi but chose not to use it, that she’s able to speak the language but not to a level of proficiency required for a radio interview, or that she cannot speak it all – these are all circumstances in which previous candidates have found themselves. It’s not clear which applies here though.

Chris Bowen (ALP; McMahon, NSW) is learning Bahasa Indonesia online through the University of New England and is a vocal proponent for keeping the language alive in Australia, describing the possibility of Indonesian studies disappearing as an ‘irreversible national scandal’. Labor candidates Andrew Leigh (Fenner, ACT), Luke Gosling (Solomon, NT), and Stephen Jones (Whitlam, NSW) also speak Bahasa Indonesia.

Mathias Cormann (LNP, WA Senate) was born in the German-speaking town of Eupen in Belgium, so possibly knows German. He attended French- and Dutch-language universities so is doubtless able to speak both of those languages fluently.

Sam Dastyari (ALP, NSW senate) was born in Iran and spoke Farsi as a child. It’s not clear whether he still does and we haven’t found any evidence of him using it while campaigning.

Mark Dreyfus (ALP; Isaacs, VIC) speaks Spanish. His wife, Deborah Chemke, is Chilean-born and he learnt the language after they met.

Steve Georganas (ALP; Hindmarsh, SA) speaks Greek. He appeared on SBS Greek to discuss Labor policy two weeks ago, speaking the language fluently.

Yingiya Mark Guyula (Independent; Lingiari, NT) speaks Yolŋu Matha and works as a consultant in the Yolŋu Aboriginal Consultants Initiative at Charles Darwin University. Here he is speaking in Yolŋu Matha in 2009 about the NT Intervention.

Ed Husic (ALP; Chifley, NSW) speaks Bosnian and has used the language when attending a meeting of the Australian Bosnian & Herzegovinian Cultural Association.

Mohit Kumar (LNP; Chifley, NSW) speaks Hindi and was interviewed by SBS in the language, code-mixing Hindi and English. He also did a livestream on Facebook with them in English.

Lance Lawrence (Independent, Solomon, NT), who describes himself as ‘Northern Territory Bushman, Horseman, Poet, Activist and Aboriginal Affairs Advocate’, has worked as a Kriol interpreter for Centrelink and the justice system.

Malarndirri McCarthy (ALP, NT Senate) is the candidate replacing outgoing senator Nova Peris. McCarthy speaks some Kriol and Yanyuwa (her heritage language), but isn’t a full speaker.

Kado Muir (LNP, WA Senate) speaks Ngalia. He has been heavily involved in the language’s revival project, including co-authoring a book entitled Learn Some Ngalia. More information on his involvement with Ngalia revival can be found here.

Richard di Natale (Greens, Victorian Senate) speaks Italian and uses the language in campaigning regularly. When he became Leader of the Greens, the party included his fluency right at the top of a listicle about him and he has been interviewed on SBS Italian many times. He appears at the end of a multilingual Greens advertisement (It appears to be the only multilingual political ad released by any party this election campaign).

Stefanie Perri (ALP; Chisholm, VIC) describes herself as ‘the daughter of Italian migrants’, so it is quite possible that she speaks at least some Italian. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of her using it in her campaigning, however.

Tanya Plibersek (ALP; Sydney, NSW) was born to Slovenian migrant parents and speaks Slovenian. Although she does not necessarily use the language in campaigning, she is open about her Slovenian heritage (e.g. tweeting her support for Slovenia in this year’s Eurovision and a photo of her daughter in Slovenian National Dress for Harmony Day). She spoke with SBS’s Slovenian program in 2014, but was interviewed in English.

Christopher Pyne (LNP; Sturt, SA) speaks a little Italian. He uses it to communicate with his constituents of Italian heritage and once used it (very briefly) in an interview with the Italian Radio Network.

Samantha Ratnam (Greens; Wills, VIC) speaks Tamil and appeared speaking the language in the Greens advert mentioned above.

Dio Wang (PUP, WA Senate) was born in China and speaks fluent Mandarin. He has used the language with voters while campaigning.

Jennifer Yang (ALP, Victorian Senate) speaks Mandarin. She was interviewed on SBS’s Cantonese program, where she spoke in Mandarin and the interviewer translated her answers into Cantonese. She uses Mandarin when campaigning on a regular basis.

There are doubtless other candidates with linguistic abilities that I’ve not mentioned here, but this list is already rather long so I’ll stop here. (Let us know in the comments below if we’ve missed anyone or if you’ve seen anyone listed above campaigning in their LOTEs!)

It appears that many candidates seem discouraged from using languages other than English on the campaign trail. That said, there seems to be more evidence of their use this time round than there was in 2013, with Julia Banks, Steve Georganas, Ed Husic, Mohit Kumar, Richard di Natale, Samantha Ratnam, Dio Wang and Jennifer Yang all actively using their LOTEs in campaigning (compared with only two candidates last election), even if they’re only being used minimally. There seems to be more of a balance here too: all of the major parties have candidates engaging in multilingual campaigning, rather than left-wing parties only as was the case last election.

It looks as though candidates are more willing to use their LOTEs when interacting with voters, but are still often rather unwilling to publicise their linguistic talents loudly and proudly. It seems to me that candidates are willing to use their LOTE as a tool to communicate directly to a person/a group of people, but when they want to send a ‘wider’ message, they seem to conceal their LOTE abilities and use English. Take Mohit Kumar, for example. He is clearly able to speak Hindi, but when his interview about multiculturalism was being streamed on Facebook (rather than SBS radio alone, where the listeners are almost guaranteed to understand Hindi), he spoke in English. It’s as though candidates are concerned their message will exclude voters if they speak a LOTE and make it appear as though they appeal only to a cultural niche rather than the electorate as a whole. The monolingual mindset reigns supreme: if you want to communicate a message, you better do it in English so everyone understands. The problem being, of course, that if you only stick to English, you are excluding people anyway. And the people you’re excluding are those who are most likely to be marginalised during our election process: those people whose first language isn’t English.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to those who provided info about LOTE-speaking candidates, especially Jerry Yik and Greg Dickson.

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