Today's view from Canberra

Lauren Dubois

It’s important, when speaking to a politician, that you have a basic understanding of their language; Pollinese. It’s similar to English. You’ll recognise the words coming out of their mouths. But you may not understand their point, the context or what we are supposed to take from it.

They do occasionally speak English (which can be jarring to the system). When Bob Brown said on Tuesday morning “Eric Abetz is the most disliked senator in this place”, it was pretty clear he meant; “I don’t like Eric Abetz”.

Such moments of candor are rare. More commonly, they speak fluent Pollinese.

Journalists do their best to interpret this for you. We paraphrase. We choose the most coherent quotes we can. But here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you learn the Pollinese basics:

“Other Siding” (The art of turning the question into an opportunity to attack the other side.)

Journalist: Minister, isn’t it true that your policy is deeply flawed and will cost us billions of dollars?

Politician: Mr Abbott would rip $20 billion out of the wallets of mums and dads…

Translation: I don’t want to admit that our policy is a bit shady, so now I will divert your attention by telling you that, even if our policy is crap, the alternative is Tony Abbott, and he is crapper.

“Gold Fishing” (Saying jack-all, while you try to formulate an answer. Their mouths are moving but nothing is coming out.)

Journalist: Prime Minister, I am asking you a very tough question with lots of details and specifics because I am very clever and did a lot of research.

Prime Minister: Well, let me just say, that’s a very good question, thank you for that question, and in relation to that question, I would say, …

Translation: Ummmmmm….

“Bait and Switch” (Hearing the question, not liking it, ignoring it and answering the question you’ve asked yourself in your mind so you can say what you want to say.)

Journalist: Senator, I understand you’re under investigation for trying to run a dodgy cupcake business using asylum seekers for cheap labour.

Senator: Look, the government is passing some very important legislation in the parliament today…

Translation: I refuse to answer your question, but no one has asked me about this legislation, so I’m going to tell you about it anyway, because then I can get out of here and get back to my cupcakes.

“Bridging” (Giving a half answer, which you cleverly use to segue to what you’d rather say.)

Journalist: The government says this policy will save billions of dollars and thousands of lives, how could you possibly oppose it?

Opposition spokesperson: Well it won’t, that’s a lie. And can I just say that the government treats the truth like an ex-lover who dumped you over twitter. They hate it.

Translation: I don’t care how good the policy is. I hate their stinking guts.

There are times however, when we struggle to decipher the pollinese.


Labor MP Gai Brodtmann, was trying to talk to the media about superannuation, on Wednesday morning. Over the next eight years, the compulsory super contribution will rise from 9% to 12%. The Government has been cheerily congratulating itself for the hike, which is part of the Mining Tax legislation.

There’s been some criticism though, that businesses will have to pay for the rise. Employers will receive various tax cuts and incentives (as a result of the mining tax) but ultimately; the money comes out of their pockets.

Ms Brodtmann got herself, and us, very confused. Here’s a snippet:

Brodtmann: What we’ve got is benefits to millions of Australians in terms of superannuation, boosts and also tax cuts to small business

Journalist: But that superannuation isn’t coming from the miners, it’s coming from those small businesses.

Brodtmann: Those discussions will be held over time once it’s phased in.

Journalist: What does that mean, sorry?

Brodtmann: The discussions on the superannuation and how that is actually introduced will be discussed over time and phased in over time. And discussed in the course of enterprise agreements.

Journalist: So you’re suggesting there might be another alternative to the small businesses paying that themselves?

Brodtmann: No…..what?

Journalist: Just to clarify, the governments already flagged when the super minimum guarantee will be going up. What are these discussions that you say have to take place?

Brodtmann: Discussion in terms of about how the superannuation is going to be introduced and phased in over time

Journalist: That’s already been flagged

Brodtmann: That’s right

Journalist: So what are these discussions you refer to?

Brodtmann: The discussions between employees and employers.

Journalist: But if the employers have to pay it, what are these discussions that you refer to?

Brodtmann: No, the discussions between how it’s actually, how it’s going to be introduced. Those discussions need to be held between employees and employers

Journalist: But eventually they’ll need to pay it.

Brodtmann: The discussions need to be held between employees and employers.

Journalist: But do you think these discussions could lead to changes to the legislation?

Brodtmann: I’m not aware of that.

Journalist: So why would small business need to have discussions though? To still discuss the policy.

Brodtmann: No, I’m talking about… No, let’s just, let’s leave it at that. Yep,  next question.

Journalist: We’re just curious as to what you’re talking about that’s all…..

If you can interpret this for us, that’d be great.

Lauren Dubois is Mamamia’s Canberra-based political contributor. You can follow her on Twitter here

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