POLITICIANS can have a devastating effect on language.
This was highlighted by George Orwell in his brilliant essay, Politics and the English Language.
Orwell greatly valued precise use of language and remained perceptive about how words could be degraded by politicians, and thus shunned by others.
One of the first truly global literary stars, he even coined the now much-used term ‘newspeak’ to warn readers of such degradation.
In part because Hitler’s paladin Joseph Göbbels was called ‘propaganda minister’, the word propaganda now has profoundly negative connotations, whereas it was once widely used.
The Catholic Church, for instance, had a Rome-based seminary, Propaganda College, whose graduates propagated that faith worldwide. It is now called the Pontifical Urbanian University.
Another who contributed to this word’s demise was Lord Northcliffe – one-time owner of The Times of London – who, as Prime Minister Lloyd George’s anti-Kaiser propaganda guru during 1917-18, astutely complemented Britain’s naval blockade of Germany and Allied army efforts on the Western Front, thereby ensuring victory.
Göbbels admired Northcliffe’s abilities, which had ensured defeatism among the Germans.
Nazism also sullied, probably forever, the once innocent-sounding phrase ‘final solution’, (endlösung in German) since it cloaked a huge clandestine wartime genocidal program headed by the little-known Austro-Slovene, SS-Brigadeführer Odilo Globocnik, from his headquarters in wartime Poland’s provincial city of Lublin.
Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who billed himself as “Australia’s greatest foreign minister”, uttered that phrase while once pontificating about the Middle East and was promptly reminded, by a journalist I think, that he’d chosen his words unwisely.
Closer to home there’s the celebrated case of the word entrepreneur, one I’d so often heard during my undergraduate days studying economics so was familiar with and attracted to it, even though I’d avoided using non-English terms like vis-à-vis, sui generis, ceteris paribus and so on, as they seemed so pretentious.
But with the onset of the costly Burke-Dowding WA Inc years, and journalists’ constant references to WA’s failed multi-millionaires – Alan Bond, the late Laurie Connell and the like – as entrepreneurs, it rapidly lost vogue.
Countless local businessmen subsequently insisted to journalists they did not want to be referred to as entrepreneurs, preferring businessman or investor.
All this is by way of background because the same fate has now befallen another word in WA.
In May 2002 State Scene highlighted the need to regulate lobbying because growing numbers of ex-MPs were carving out careers as lobbyists and voters were in the dark
about behind-the-scenes goings on.
Much later, Independent MLA Liz Constable tabled a bill to help remedy this.
I’m stunned at how rapidly the words lobbyist, lobby or lobbying came to be ostracised by so many.
I recently had a chat with someone who sometimes contacts Brian Burke.
“What’s Burkie doing now that Geoff Gallop’s blackballed him from lobbying his ministers?” I asked.
I was interested to learn that very little had in fact changed for Mr Burke since Dr Gallop’s discriminatory ban on him contacting ministers.
He’s apparently made needed adjustments and no longer regards himself as a lobbyist, but rather a consultant, a word his brother Terry carried on his business card after leaving politics.
Clients wishing to influence the Gallop Government still queue at Brian Burke’s door.
The only difference is that he no longer faces – that is, personally lobbies – ministers.
He now listens to clients’ problems, ponders, then outlines the best strategy to initiate approaches to government, and perhaps even the Opposition, so clients may favourably resolve the matter themselves.
The way it was told to me, he is operating in his revamped consulting capacity in very much the way he acted when premier between 1983 and 1988.
He simply knuckles out how particular issues should be confronted, advising clients (in the old days it was politicians or public servants) what they should do, telling them precisely how to do it.
He is, therefore, offering tailor-made do-it-yourself lobbying plans.
Although Mr Burke is someone who has made several grave errors it would be wrong not to see him as a highly adept political operator.
It matters little if you dub this lobbying or consulting, for when all’s said and done it’s much the same thing.
Mr Burke remains one of WA’s shrewdest post-War political opera-tives, even if sometimes a seriously flawed one.
He’s certainly superior to Dr Gallop and Liberal leader Colin Barnett.
There’s little doubt that if Mr Burke was still premier and wished to see shopping hours deregulated – as is the case elsewhere across Australia – he’d have done it, winning electoral kudos along the way.
Dr Gallop, instead, retained WA’s late 1890s-style shopping arrangements and simultaneously lost respect across much of the business community for buckling to shopkeepers’ fear campaign, which was undoubtedly devised by an adept consultant with ‘Burkean’ skills.
Get set to no longer hear ex-MPs describing themselves as lobbyists, preferring instead to be described as consultants.
Mr Burke, with his proclivity for being at the centre of things, helped in the demise across WA of two words – ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘lobbyist’.
Quite an achievement.
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