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Election time - What exactly do the commonly used political jargons mean?

Наденица цвърчи пред избирателна секция в Мелбърн. Source: AAP

For many political lingo can sound like a foreign language

Australian politicians, the press, and political commentators use phrases like 'voting below the line' but what does that even mean? 

From democracy sausages to pork barrelling, experts break down the words and phrases we’ll hear more and more as the federal election draws closer.

From donkey vote, to hustings, incumbency, and pork barrelling, there are several phrases that get used more often every time there’s an upcoming election, but what do they mean and where do they come from?               

While a lot people don't give these phrases a second thought, for many in our community, political lingo can sound like a foreign language.

Algene Cruz is an electrical engineer based in Brisbane; he migrated to Australia from the Philippines three years ago and still struggles with political jargon.

“On the slang words, literally, almost all of them I can’t really understand. It's a bit funny because whenever I'm speaking to any Australians, and they're using slang, it sometimes gives me some time to understand what they're really saying. But , it will be awesome if I could just really get used to it. So I can pretty much understand whatever they are saying.”

So let’s break down some of the more commonly used words you may hear leading up to the federal election starting with 'democracy sausage' - what is it?

The short answer is a sausage sandwich also known as a sausage sizzle, which a voter can obtain at a polling booth on election day, but there’s more to it.

La Trobe University Emeritus Professor and author Judith Brett says there’s an interesting origin to the phrase, which arose around 2012.

“A group of young people on social media used the term democracy sausage to talk about where it was possible to buy a sausage for breakfast when you were having a vote. And the term took off.”

Looking at the phrase 'donkey vote'; contrary to the popular belief that it’s an informal throwaway vote, it’s actually still a formal way of voting.

Political commentator and Griffith University Associate Professor Paul Williams explains. 

“A donkey vote is a valid vote. But we think of donkeys as dumb creatures. So the idea is that someone is going into a polling station, going into the booth, and thinking, I don't know what's going on in politics, I have no interest, I'll just do the simplest and fastest thing to get out of here.”

The fastest and simplest thing usually means people start with one on the top and they just number down the page in numerical order, until they get to the bottom without really thinking about what they’re doing or who they’re voting for.

The term 'hung parliament' is based on the same concept as a hung jury but in parliament, it means no party has an overall majority of seats, so no party is able alone to form a government capable of controlling parliament by themselves. 

Instead, they have to rely on support from other parties and independent candidates.

You might have heard Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese are 'on the hustings'

The word hustings is an English term, which is used in Australia as the country took on British Westminster politics. 

To be on the hustings is to be on the election campaign trail.

What about incumbent and incumbency

We hear that  during election time and an incumbent is just someone who’s in the job. 

Dr Williams says the idea in politics is that incumbency has advantages as the incumbent, which is the Liberal-National coalition in federal government, is already doing the job.

“Changes of government quite rare. And because so some people say that's because there's an advantage of incumbency in Australia. Once you're in office, it's usually pretty hard to get you out, you have to have a big reason to kick the government out. So incumbency is valuable. And certainly during the COVID pandemic, incumbency was valuable. You know, we saw state and territory governments easily win reelection because Australians were very worried about the pandemic, and they wanted to stick to the government that they knew as they were managing COVID and didn’t want to change courses in times of crisis.”

Australian National Dictionary Centre Director Amanda Laugesen says the language used surrounding politics and during election time comes from a variety of places and is often influenced by what’s happening in our part of the world.

“On the one hand, we sort of have things that are particular to our voting system. So we have things like above the line and below the line, which are uniquely Australian expressions for our uniquely Australian electoral system. And then we also have, of course, things that affect our particular political context at any given time. So obviously, this election, we might have things to do with the impact of COVID, the ongoing consequences of that, including the economic consequences, things around security, things around border management, all of those kinds of particular issues that affect Australia.”

And if you're wondering what 'above' and 'below the line' means, in an Australian election, you’re given the option of voting above or below the line on the ballot for the upper house.

We’ve also been hearing the term ‘Manchurian candidate’ lately, but what does it mean? 

Dr Laugesen explains.

Voting above the line means you have to number at least six boxes. 

Your preferences will first be distributed to the candidates in the party or group of your first choice, then to candidates in the party or group of your second choice and so on.

To vote below the line means you have to number at least 12 boxes, so you know exactly who you’re voting for.

Dr Laugesen says one expression the Australian National Dictionary Centre have been monitoring is ‘I don’t hold a hose’, which goes back to 2019 when Prime Minister Scott Morrison was on holiday in Hawaii during Australia’s bushfire season.

“He came back to use the expression ‘I don't hold a hose’ to say well, he's not actually the one who's out there dealing with the with the bushfires directly. But it was then sort of turned around to be used against him to kind of say he was in both the bushfire context, but also in later context, not taking direct responsibility for something that he was pushing responsibility onto other people or other factors.”

We’ve also been hearing the term ‘Manchurian candidate’ lately, but what does it mean? 

Dr Laugesen explains.

“We've seen that term come up recently, in Parliament by both sides of politics, but I think initially by the Coalition for Labor to refer to near the fact that they might be more sympathetic to China than the current government thinks that Australia should be, so it's quite a potent slur, really, because it really does imply I think an element of treason which I think you know, in its strongest use, so I think it can be it can be quite powerful term.”

Now, let’s look at pork barrelling.

It’s defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as to supply an inappropriate share of government money, in return for political support. 

An example of this is would be if a politician says to an electorate in Sydney that they would build new roads if they won the local vote.

The phrase pork barrelling comes from the United States, where barrels of pork were staple food items for the relatively wealthy in the 19th century.  

In short, it’s the promise politicians offer if you support them, they’ll support you.

Algene Cruz says political jargon can be good for people who’ve grown up in Australia as they’ve had time to accustom themselves to the slang; but for newer migrants like himself, he says even when you’re open to learning these phrases, they’re still an obstacle to understanding Australian politics.

“If you're going to tell me that would it  benefit Australian politics? I'd say no, because Australia's composed of different migrants, from different countries. So  the more migrants comes in and vote, they just don't know what they're doing. They just don't know whom to vote and whom not to vote. So it will have a negative impact in the future. Maybe not now, but as it progresses, then yeah, there might be have a problem.”


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