From “Manchurian candidate” accusations to talk of “wedge politics”, Australians are already being served up a taste of the dramatic language that characterises political campaigns. Language has always played a big part in Australian politics and this year’s federal election will be no different, experts from The Australian National University (ANU) say. 

Effective slogans or catchphrases can capture a mood, such as Gough Whitlam’s rallying call “it’s time”, says Dr Amanda Laugesen, Director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC). They can also point to an issue, like the “Big Australia” population debate; or strike at an opponent’s weakness, such as using “Hawkespeak” to describe the convoluted diction of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.  

In 2022 the “daggy dad” description of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been fuelled by pre-election public appearances, while Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has undergone a so-called “glow-up”. 

“A number of Australians don’t follow politics closely all year round, but may pay more attention during an election campaign, so any effective language – or alternatively language that doesn’t work – can really make a big difference,” Laugesen says.  

“This year we might also see ‘I don’t hold a hose’ or ‘strollout’ used against Scott Morrison. We’ve seen more personal attacks used in the past, like when Julia Gillard was referred to as ‘Juliar'”.  

According to ANDC Senior Researcher and Editor Mark Gwynn, each election generates its own concerns and narrative, often based on current hot topics.  

In particular, the war in Ukraine and promises of major defence spending have sparked talk of Australia heading into a so-called “khaki election” – one heavily influenced by wartime sentiment or focused on security issues.  

“Probably the most notable thing we’ve seen so far has been the ‘Manchurian candidate’ slur used in parliament,” Gwynn says. 

“Climate change, the recent floods and the situation in Ukraine could all influence and generate language as voters prepare to head to the polls.”  

While there are plenty of examples of words and phrases being taken from overseas and adapted-for example, “drain the billabong” as a variation of the American term “drain the swamp”-experts agree we can expect to see lots of uniquely Australian language rolled out by politicians in the lead-up to the election.  

“Politicians like to use Aussie terms – such as ‘fair go’ – to signal their Australianness. It is comparable to wearing a big Akubra while out campaigning,” Laugesen says. 

“It will be interesting to see which terms they bring out this time and we’ll be tracking and recording the language of the election as it unfolds.

“Of course, the nicknames used by our two key candidates, ScoMo for Morrison and Albo for Albanese, can also help to humanise them, while at the same time lending themselves to less-flattering variants.” 

The Australian National Dictionary Centre researches Australian English in partnership with Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, and edits Oxford’s Australian dictionaries.   

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