What Tony Abbott talks about when he talks about 'welfare'

10 Oct 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s talk on social policy topics has included such easy-to-recall phrases such as ‘lifters, not leaners’, ‘workers, not shirkers’, and ‘earning or learning’. These phrases are not just slogans; like all politicians’ public talk, they express a take on the world. Such phrases have a commonsense appeal—it is hard to be for leaners or shirkers, or against lifters or workers. But what looks like a commonsense description is actually an exercise of power, through which Mr Abbott naturalises a politicised and partial account of social policy problems and their solutions.
The authors discuss some of their results from close analysis of Mr Abbott’s talk about welfare in 39 speeches, interviews and other public pronouncements made between September 2013, when he became prime minister, and late July 2014, when they searched for the word ‘welfare’ in the database on his official website.
Gabrielle Meagher and David Wilkins’ paper is published in the Australian Review of Public Affairs (425) and was presented at the Reform and Rhetoric in Australian Social Policy Symposium at The University of Sydney on 19 September 2014, which brought together researchers to discuss how contemporary social policy is being talked about, designed and debated.
Image © Troy from Sydney, Australia

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