Don't kid yourselves. Tony Abbott doesn't use aggressive language by accident.


We not sure if you’ve heard, but our Prime Minister is planning a face-off. A throw down. A duel. A battle.

Tony Abbott is going to “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin over his handling of the shooting down of flight MH17, when the G20 Leaders’ Summit kicks off next month in Brisbane. That’s right. Our Prime Minister is not going to engage in diplomatic talks, or even put his position forcefully, he is going to grab the Russian President by the collar and physically shake some sense into him.

Here’s Mr. Abbott, in his own words:


Pardon? It’s safe to say that after that comment half the country was a bit confused. A #shirtfront hashtag promptly broke out on Twitter:

And it inspired a lot of memes.


So Mamamia spoke to Dee Madigan, who is an expert in the language of politics, the Creative Director of Campaign Edge and the author of The Hard Sell (which you can buy here) to find out what the Prime Minister and his media people were actually trying to say with the whole ‘shirtfront’ moment.

MM: Do you think Abbott’s use of the word ‘shirtfront’ was deliberate or a mistake?

DM: “Shirtfronting’ is an AFL term that looks like this:


And Tony Abbott, by his own admission, doesn’t follow AFL. So there is no way it’s a term he would use in natural conversation. It was a deliberate term he chose to use.

MM: What sort of persona is the Prime Minister’s masculine, aggressive language trying to craft?

DM: Regardless of what you think of Abbott (and I don’t think much), he stays ‘on brand’. And this kind of overly blokey, aggressive language is very much on brand for him.

MM: How much work goes into choosing the words politicians use in public?


DM: Too much. I think some of our politicians look like they’re thinking too hard about phrasing things the certain way they have been told ‘resonates well with focus groups’  and the danger is they come across like they are a bad actor delivering a line rather then a politician of conviction.

MM: What are some examples of different words for the same things that politicians have used or started using, to try and send a particular message?

DM: Politicians use loaded words to add both positive and negative impact. ‘Vulnerable elderly’  ‘hardworking Australians’.  We are not in debt, we are in a ‘debt crisis’, a ‘budget emergency.’

MM: Do you think that little changes to language changes can really have an impact on voters?

DM: Language and words matter. But we are all very good at picking up when someone isn’t being straight with us. And it’s usually the delivery that gives that away – politicians are not actors and can seldom deliver a line well unless it really is their own. The problem however is that the average length of a news soundbite is 4 seconds.  So while politicians need to sound like themselves, they need to do it quickly!

In The Hard Sell, creative director Dee Madigan uses her trademark humour and down-to-earth approach to unveil the world of political advertising. Drawing on real-life stories from her own recent Federal and State campaigns, she gives us fascinating industry insight. Find out more about the book here.