At a guess, Jay Weatherill probably writes his own scripts. His speeches are much like the man’s public persona: low-key. Behind the scenes he might actually be a bolshie, sparky firebrand but he slips into soothing auto-pilot at the lectern, almost disconnected from what he is saying.
A whiff of the explainer-teacher surfaces as he works his way from one point to the next, strongly suggesting the speeches are his own work with maybe a bit of research input from staff. Nothing obvious suggests that he employs a professional speechwriter.
Opposition leader Isobel Redmond seems not to have a speechwriter either. Unpolished, she appears to work from dot points, ploughing on until she’s finished whatever she has to say.
Redmond and Weatherill are lawyers by training. It could be that the sober demeanour of the courtroom has turned their light and shade to uniform grey.
Along the way Weatherill has also picked up the trick of copying and pasting slabs from one speech to another. For instance, the same familiar references about revitalising the city centre — the Adelaide Oval redevelopment, the Riverbank project and relaxed shopping hours — keep cropping up in different contexts.
But each audience hears it afresh and no one knows the difference, except for the premier’s staff trailing around after him. Because of the dull monotone way he speaks, some Weatherill lines look better written down than they sound.
Take this one, which he delivered in a speech to the Property Council last week, referring to the Housing Trust: “The housing was diverse. Some of it was for people who were renting; others were rent-purchase; others were just market-based housing.”
On second thoughts, forget it, it reads no better than it sounded in the flesh.
We are not blessed in this country with many great orators among our current federal politicians. Kevin Rudd is god-awful and deserved to be toppled as PM on that basis alone; Julia Gillard grates and grinds like a rusty gate; and Tony Abbott is a barking dog.
The great combos in political terms, notably Graham Freudenberg for Gough Whitlam and Don Watson for Paul Keating, all found a voice that touched on something deeper in the national psyche.
At the other extreme there is a special hell for speech writers: the royal family. The Queen’s speeches are the verbal equivalent of a general anaesthetic. The traditional form of words is sandpapered smooth of all interesting lumps and bumps; the message is content free.
“We have very much enjoyed our visit to your wonderful nation and can say with confidence that your future is in your own hands.”
She says it every time. Royal tosh.
Does Weatherill need a classy speech writer? No, not really.
Likely as not it would be wasted on him. What would be the point of inserting pearls of wisdom into his mouth when he lacks the lyrical flair to pull off the necessary theatrics?
The best that can be said of a Weatherill speech is it has the advantage of being the genuine article. It’s just him. They are his thoughts, his words and his way of delivering them. Having a wordsmith to pep up the content is not going to make him a better public speaker. In fact it might rebound the wrong way.
Someone else usually wrote Mike Rann’s speeches and none of them sticks in the memory.
What stuck was the spin, the grandstanding, the overblown rhetoric and the half-dozen mentions of Don Dunstan every time Rann got to his feet in public. The writer, poor sod, fitted the speech patterns exactly to Rann’s personal measurements.
Weatherill cannot help his lack of cadence and it may not matter anyway. So far his softly-softly approach has proved to be popular with the opinion polls, helped by the fact that he is steadily reversing the contentious decisions that made Rann unpopular.
Funnily enough, Redmond’s ratings are also healthy at the moment. Perhaps there is something to be said in favour of dull speech makers.
*This article first appeared on InDaily