Time to abandon ‘reform’ as a policy and as a word

In the early years of this blog, I spent a lot of time trying to find a sensible way of handling the word “reform”. But now I think it’s been corrupted beyond any hope of redemption. My conclusion is that we should never use the word, and be instantly suspicious of anyone who does. Most Australian voters have already reached this position, I think (see also, “productivity“).

33 thoughts on “Time to abandon ‘reform’ as a policy and as a word

  1. It was all the electricity privatisations that have turned the public off. Post privatisation most prices have doubled. The same may have made some money for the govt but everyone else in the community is paying for it.

  2. In terms of going forward:

    Anything based on “strong” is going to be PR poison in Qld for quite a while.

    And it’s probably also time to throw out “framework” too.

  3. At the end of the day we need to break through the clutter and bring to the table calibrated expectations of clear goals. The disruptive innovations of diversity and empowerment allow an exit strategy from functional training into genuine face time. This generation of globalization going forward grows the business headlighting into a holistic approach. The impact of this allows us to leverage our milestones moving forward into the new normal of a new sincerity on the runway of organic growth outside the box. A paradigm shift to proactively push the envelope allows reach-out relaying robust seachange. So let’s spin up strategic communication to streamline survival strategy, sustainability and synergy as we touch base and unpack the wellness in our wheelhouse. It’s a win-win.

  4. Are you practicing for an interview for a senior position in the public service?? If so, anything less than a Director General for you would be a waste!@Ikonoclast

  5. @Megan
    Yet “can do” pops up regularly in job ads.

    “Creative destruction” as used by Silicon Valley when they’re turning yet another industry into one of their monopolised apps probably has another few years left in it. Can’t wait to see the end of that one.

  6. I enjoyed Ikon’s take,
    most of the junk he weaved well into a good expression of what the smug rightist gibber really is about- sadists sanitising through euphemism, nasties that would horrify a long suffering public if they immediately grasped what was really intended.

    Free Trade Agreement is another term that means virtually the opposite of what it should mean, when market economist spinners get hold of it.

    I had to smile at the original thread JQ included, most contributors “dries”and poor old Gary Sauer Thompson dumped on for taking the misemploy of language to task.

    Apart from that, a factor coming to mind is the perverse perserverence of not only neolibs and sales types, but much of the ALP, in thrall to capitalist jingoistics and sado economics, of the employ of misleading terms; also you must wonder at what passes for the mental processes of many journalists.

    Never mind, a blow struck for liberty, although one doubts whether it will stop the ABC’s misuse of terminology in particular, now that it has become the modern electronic version of Pravda.

  7. Spike Milligan recorded an account of an army practice exercise in which the group of soldiers he was with found themselves surrounded by another group leaping out of ambush and announcing ‘You are all prisoners of Ack Army!’

    The lieutenant commanding Milligan’s detachment said wearily, ‘We are Ack Army.’

    The ambushers apologised and took themselves off. When they’d gone, Milligan or one of the others said to the lieutenant ‘I thought we were Beer Army.’

    ‘We don’t want everybody to know’, said the lieutenant.

    You quote the head of the BCA ‘lamenting’ that when business leaders talk about ‘productivity’ everybody assumes they mean they want people to work longer hours for lower pay.

    Of course that’s what they mean! They just don’t want everybody to know.

  8. Good grief, there are sooooo many political cliches that have com out of association with Tony Abbott.

    I hear what you are saying…
    I have learnt a lesson……
    I tell you no lie when I say….
    The Australian people….
    There will be no………..under a party that I lead
    (fill in you own pet hate terms)

  9. Ambrose Bierce’s skull butts against his coffin in furious agreement.

    “sustainable” – when Abbott uses it to refer to the Howard-era budgets, what he means is “structurally unsound but propped up by a bubble”.

    “intergenerational theft” – when Abbott uses it to refer to government debt run up by Generation X thieving from millennials, what he means is “boomers using super and tax dodging laws to thieve from millennials”.

  10. The words and language you use, and the meanings that are transmitted, can frustrate building consensus for action.

    This is an old CIA trick developed in the 1970’s using research on “semantic differential” by Charles Osgood.


    Osgood recounted that while working on the project he was suspicious that one of his colleagues “might be an agent for something, but I didn’t know who. He kept disappearing on our early trips. He’d say he was going to bed, and I’d think of something I wanted to ask him and he’d be out for two or three hours. It happened again and again. He had spent many years in Afghanistan as a researcher; he knew his way around other cultures. If he was an agent, he would have probably been sent to facilitate and to keep the CIA informed.” CIA records of Osgood’s project — code named MKULTRA 95 — show that there was, in fact, one witting person on the project staff.

    A CIA memo of March 1960 indicates that the agency saw Osgood’s project as “directly relevant to agency problems in (name deleted) and technical support of political activities.” Osgood said he could well understand CIA interest in his work: “The semantic differential is used in advertising all the time to help sell products. Evaluation, activity and potency zoom out at you from every advertisement. There’s nothing I can do about that, you know.


    So capitalist lobbyists swamp public affairs with words the masses can digest when they would normally reject the concepts they represent.

  11. Perhaps, “adults in charge”, “no surprises” and “good government” can be dropped as well.

  12. “Entrepreneuer” is another word that is often misleading. Back in the days of Alan Bond and Christopher Skase, it meant “spiv”, or, possibly, “colourful racing identity.”

  13. I see in the Ukraine crisis “Leaders agree to peace roadmap”. A “peace roadmap” usually mean decades of intractable partisan conflict. I really find it hard to believe that anyone can still use the “peace roadmap” phrase seriously. I guess it’s one of those signalling phrases. Those in the know understand that “peace roadmap” means “endless war”.

  14. Surely the time is right for progressives to launch a national propaganda campaign about the proper role of government in a mixed economy. The Business Council of Australia did it in 1986 (with the enthusiastic support of the Labor government) and for 30 years, public policy has been based on a set of values that privileges the pursuit of economic efficiency and productivity above all others. It’s run its course, just as the ‘fair goes all round’ mentality ran out of puff in the 1970s. People have been told for three decades that they have to run harder and harder just to stay competitive, and they’re sick of it. I suspect they’re also rapidly getting sick of the sight of the undeserving rich throwing their weight around politically.

    Is there any chance the ALP can finally shrug off its trade union legacy and become a true progressive party, articulating a set of values that restores democratic principles to the centre of our political conversations?

  15. Free Trade Agreement is another term that means virtually the opposite of what it should mean, when market economist spinners get hold of it.

    @paul walter

    To be fair to “market economists” a great many of them have the same view of actually existing FTAs as you; google “trade diversion” and “managed trade”. It’s mainly the pollies, not the economists, who are making the term “free trade” suffer the same fate as “reform”.

  16. Not sure about “the unions” (another over-determined comment spun a thousand ways).

    The Labor Party was founded by working people who risked their hides to join a union in the old days and there is no shame in an egalitarian, redistributive ideal.Why people think trade unions are wrong, will ever baffle me.. they are only there to ensure a fair go for vast numbers who would be exploited by employers.

    It does seem true that many unions are not what they used to be; they have been incorporated into the bosse’s system.

    In fact, there would be a case to mount that the ALP would be better off with some unions controlled by apparatchik types, these often support the foul ALP Right-Faction: observe here I employ the term faction, rather than union!

    The huge problem ,as isoften the case, is the Murdochist conflation of “union”with “faction”

  17. @John Quiggin

    Well of course the ALP is no longer a workers’ party and unions are often no longer controlled by rank and file members but rather managed and manipulated by professional “Labor” apparatchiks. On the other hand, the (Neo)Liberals remain very clearly the party for bosses, oligarchs and business councils.

    Workers (including many self-employed, contractors etc.) are atomised politically and modern non-industrial workers don’t appear to know how to use a bit of “muscle”. IT and clerical workers actually have a lot of industrial muscle if they wanted to use it. Shut down computer and clerical systems and you could shut down the country. This could be done not by massing but by remaining dispersed (at home). It would be a very effective national strike tactic. However, you don’t need to tell me I’m dreaming. I don’t expect to see it happen… at least not for a long time yet.

    Modern politics might yet split into “Brown” and “Green” rather than right/left, boss/worker. When the “fit really hits the shan” with respect to climate change and limits to growth then one would expect Green politics to gain a lot more traction.

  18. @paul walter
    Unions only represent a small minority of Australian workers. Hardly anyone self-identifies as a member of the working class, and even fewer are proud of it. Being the party of labour is as anachronistic as being the country party or the returned servicemen’s party. For decades, any informed Australian could name the president or secretary of the ACTU for example, because they were powerful people who influenced important national issues. These days I suspect few Australians would even know what the ACTU is, let alone who is the president or secretary, just as they don’t know the presidents of the Farmers’ Federation or the RSL.

    There is indeed “no shame in an egalitarian, redistributive ideal” and that is why I wish the ALP would become a true progressive party. Because the unions that remain in Australia don’t have an egalitarian, redistributive ideal. They are egregious rent-seekers, run by professional office-seekers more interested in furthering their own careers than in any ideals or principles. The ALP needs a Whitlam to reinvigorate it, but I can’t see one in its ranks at the moment.

  19. All interesting comments, but Ikon’s comment referring to the Brown Green dichotomy
    resonates keenly with me.

    Ken L, it is also sad that the day of the unionist community activists seems to have passed.

    Oh, for a few Jack Mundys, say in IT, let alone the forests, waterways and arable land ruined by agri practices and products.

    Although I think many are about, but todays media is so straight-jacketed as to deny their inclusion into debates on issues arising.

  20. @Ken_L Not entirely true, many workers are free riders to conditions that were achieved by unions. Unions in Aust are a product of a history of adversity and have been unable to properly achieve their true function of representation. Class/culture myths and wars still separate workers from management.

  21. Reform ….. that is for another time and another generation ….. as is the payment for the lifestyle that we wish to enjoy today.

  22. @Joseph Langford
    This idea that there is a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth/debt is a myth. More than that, it’s a contradictory myth – we are paying the debt right now in the form of the debt + interest payments Australia makes on its bonds every month. It’s totally contradictory to claim simultaneously that we are borrowing from the future and that we are spending too much of our budget servicing our debt.

    Furthermore, an awful lot of Australian government debt is held by Australian banks and superannuation countries, which are funded by Australians; so, to a first approximation, the people “we” in the form of the government, are borrowing from, and paying back to, are our own savings and superannuation accounts. (Our net foreign debt is higher than the US, where the debt is almost entirely internal, but most of that debt has been invested in building enterprises, especially mines, here).

    The debt we ARE transferring to future generations to “fund” our lifestyle is the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  23. I’m glad John is apparantly supportive of precision in terminology, and so by all means get rid of ‘reform’. But surely stopping the (mis)use of the term ‘economic rationalism’ should get priority. Its misuse by many on the Left, including by John, often sees economists being tarred with the same brush as economic rationalists, even though they often do not support the policy positions that are said to be held by economists rationalists.

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