Precision in language is vital in politics
– yet political words change their meanings all the time. Take “liberal”. It’s labelled
both Alfred Deakin’s party and Menzies’ child. Today, an Australian conservative
may well deploy the word in its American sense, as a pejorative, while the
object of their scorn may label their critic as a neo-liberal.

A new book, Keywords in Australian
Politics
, offers a guide to 101 terms from accountability to Westminster. Some
are old – democracy. Others are new – culture wars. Some refer to academic
terminology – the post-modern concept of “other”. Others deal with the nuts and
bolts of public administration – ministerial adviser.

Keywords in Australian Politics defines
each term, highlights links between different keywords, outlines the main
debates concerning each keyword and indicates how they came to be part of
Australian political language.

The publishers say the book provides
Australians with the necessary information to use these terms with confidence
in public discussion and debate, from the dinner party to the end-of-semester
essay.

It’s a sketch, but a detailed sketch. And
before you get into the main body of the book, the authors kindly define the
words “politics” and “keywords” in an introduction. Just so you know what it’s
all about.

Keywords in Australian Politics by Rodney
Smith, Adriadne Vromen and Ian Cook is published by Cambridge University Press.

Peter Fray

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