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Time to be more careful about using politically charged language

  • 20 May 2021
Modern Australian society is infected with imported terms. The list includes political correctness, identity politics, culture wars, woke and virtue signalling. They are not used in a neutral fashion, but to denigrate the legitimate views and opinions of others.

Over the past thirty years their use has grown so much that some of them, like political correctness, have become commonplace. Most are not traditional Australian terminology but, as often happens in a global era, have been imported from the USA. Our language has been corrupted by terms which have grown out of different social conditions and are then applied without thought to quite different Australian circumstances. 

These terms may originally have had a carefully delineated meaning, but they are often used politically in a lazy, shorthand way. They are also often used in a way which serves the political purpose of shutting down conversation and trying to undermine alternative points of view. 

A term currently in great favour among conservatives is identity politics, defined as a political approach wherein people of a particular gender, religion, race, social background or class develop political agendas to advantage themselves by calling attention to their systemic disadvantage.  

Scott Morrison condemns identity politics as a modern disease and a trick to advantage some social groups over others. He may see it as demonstrating the traditional distinction between the two sides of Australian politics (individualism versus collectivism), but so-called 'identity politics' language has been widely used in the past by conservatives as well as progressives. Menzies’ famous appeal to the forgotten people of the middle class could equally be criticised as identity politics just as could the approach of the rural politicians who formed the Country party (now the Nationals) to advocate for those suffering systemic disadvantage because they lived in rural and regional areas.  

The only difference now is that identity politics is being utilised by other groups who perceive they are subject to ingrained social disadvantage, including women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the LGBTQI+ community. 


'We should engage in it openly, using clear language which we all understand not imported terms which, when used in a lazy fashion, only disguise what is going on.'  

Political correctness (PC) is a related but older term, defined as an approach chosen to avoid offense to members of particular individuals and groups, on the basis of their race, gender and/or sexuality. Critics condemn so-called political correctness as an unreasonable restriction on their freedom of speech, preventing them using certain language in