Repeat after me: BIG, NEW, but NOT A TAX

I posted on this on Floating Life and am so concerned about it I have raised it to a sticky there. Why am I so concerned? Well, the short answer is that (probably like you) I have been brought up on George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and I simply hate the perpetration of dishonest linguistic strategies by people like Tony Abbott who is quite deliberate thinking (rightly, perhaps) that this cheap trick will buy votes. It’s up to us to disappoint him.

Repeat then: an Emissions Trading Scheme (whether or not a good thing is another matter) is not a tax. A Carbon Tax, something quite different, is (duh!) a tax.

So I am pleased to see James Mahoney pinging Tony Abbott on this – and others – with considerable skill. “The ‘big, new tax’ line is beginning to enjoy the status of John Howard’s ‘this election is about interest rates’ one in 2004. It wasn’t, but he kept at it and it worked. Maybe the big, new tax will, too.”

…Most modern public relations activity is about more than a transitory few lines in the media. That’s a good result, perhaps even all a client wanted. But more effective PR is about building relationships and open "two-way" communication between organisations and the people who matter to them. Honest dialogue between equals is more likely to deliver an effective result than will shouting at each other.

The variant of it practised by party apparatchiks and ex-journalists who become media advisers is more concerned with what the US theorist James Grunig defines as "press agentry" – or ”feeding the chooks” as Joh Bjelke-Petersen had it. Coverage of a minister in a hard hat repeating the day’s catchphrase on the nightly television news takes primacy.

Despite this intuitive approach, political media advisers are on to the theory behind the rule of threes with a catchy line like "this big, new tax". It holds that if a message is delivered three times, in three places, in three different ways, it has a better chance of being understood. Some TV ads are programmed twice in the one commercial break, then again in the next.

That’s why Abbott and his front bench seem consumed by "this big, new tax". There’s an in-built rule of threes: big, new and tax. When repeated by three Opposition frontbenchers at three different media doorstop interviews, in one day for three different media, perhaps radio, TV and the web, the impact of big, new and tax starts to build. That’s the theory anyway, and one aided by the Prime Minister’s inability to argue in simple, short, pithy sentences….

James Mahoney teaches public relations at the University of Canberra.

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