Banning the word 'mate'? Well that's unAustralian.

Sean Power with a ‘mate’. Or should he call her ‘friend’?


Quick, get Alf Stewart. We’ve got a disaster on our hands. The corporate cops are out of control and they’re trying to ban one of the nicest four-letter words in the Australian vocab.

Using the word ‘mate’ at work – according to a senior bureaucratic drongo in New South Wales – is no longer allowed.

Are they fair dinkum? Fair suck of the sav! What’s this nong thinking?

According to reports from ABC, a memo was recently sent to all staff working for Northern NSW Local Health reminding them about their use of “professional language”.

It advised staff that use of the word ‘mate’ could be perceived as “disrespectful, disempowering and non-professional”. And as a result, following a series of complaints, the use of the word between medical staff and patients has been banned.

And – if that wasn’t enough – just in case someone overheard the four letter word in the corridor and got upset, workers are no longer allowed to use the word between themselves either.

Bloody outrageous.

I reckon who ever made that decision might have a kangaroo loose in the top paddock. Or are they having a lend of us? It’s enough to make you as mad as a cut snake, I tell ‘ya.

The NSW Health ban on the greatest word in the world has caused such a fuss that the NSW Premier Barry O’Farell has had to intervene. Barry O’Farrell told reporters;

“I get the fact we don’t want public servants providing services to the public to be referring to the public as ‘sweetheart’, ‘darling’, or honey’. But, ‘I have some issues myself around the world ‘mate’ – I think it is part of the Australian vernacular’.

On ya’ Prem! Top bloke.

But it’s not the first time a ban on the word ‘mate’ has hit the headlines.

In 2005, some of the head honchoes at Parliament House tried to ban the famous phrase too.

The whole stink kicked off after a security guard called a passing politician the big M word, and then the pissed-off polly complained. Other guards were then ordered to be more ‘professional’.

Cue a giant blue.

Former Prime Minister John Howard even got involved, telling reporters the ‘mate’ ban was absurd:

“These things are all a matter of context, and that’s why it’s impractical and absurd to try and ban something”. “People will ring me up and I might start off saying ‘yes sir’ as a matter of courtesy, which I normally do, and then we lapse into it, we might say ‘mate’.”

True that. And Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek said:

“I can’t tell you how offended I am by this. I think frankly it’s un-Australian”

Common sense prevailed, and the ban was quickly reversed. It’s just a shame the authorities in NSW Health haven’t seen the light here.

Between you, me and the gatepost, I understand that there might be some circumstances where a more formal phrase could be more appropriate. But why does that mean the word should be banned, so that it can’t be used AT ALL?

Look! More mates!

The idea of a policy that completely bans any worker from using the phrase between themselves or patients just seems absolutely bloody ridiculous. It’s two clowns short of a circus.

With the right tone, pause, facial expression and growl, ANY word can become offensive. If I really needed to, I could turn the word ‘cucumber’ into an insult.

Last night, Twitter also reminded me that you never know when the word ‘mate’ could be used as a tool to charm and disarm.

One bloke made the point, that the ban could limit the tools that a doctor or nurse working in ER might have to turn a hostile or aggressive situation into something more manageable.

One police officer also told me he has relied on the word ‘mate’ to turn around some nasty situation. His most common use for ‘mate’? Using the phrase to remind mates – that without the beer brain being in full flight – they actually are mates. And shouldn’t punch each other. In fact, he’s lost count of the number of drunken brawls he’s turned into beer fuelled hugging sessions with a carefully placed ‘mate’.

A female mate of mine, who works as a regional journalist and often deals in male dominated environments, told me that when she’s referred to as ‘mate’ it makes her feel more comfortable and less obtrusive. Like part of the team.

So, what’s next for the ‘mate’ ban?

What about football players and sports commentators? Could they be fined every time they use it on the field, in case it upsets someone in the audience? Stiff cheedar!

Or could tradies be forced to refer to each other on the site as sir and ma’am? Buckley’s chance!

If the word ‘mate’ makes you feel uncomfortable – sure, whilst I don’t personally don’t get that, I’ll respect it – and any other doctor, nurse, receptionist, check-out chick or customer service respective worth two-bob will too. Just don’t beat around the bush, fess up and let them know so they can make some on the spot adjustments. No wucking forries.

But mate, there’s no reason to get your knickers in a knot, go berko, cause a kafuffle and re-write the rulebook.

I reckon that’s one-step to far, and it’s got me as mad a gum-tree full of galahs.

Sean Power is a 21-year-old bloke who wants to be inside your radio and TV. He once got free beer from a giant company for his birthday party, just by asking for it. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Do you think NSW Local Health has gone too far? Would you care if someone called you ‘mate?’ What about ‘honey’ or ‘darling?’ ‘Babe’? ‘Sweetheart’?