Academia · Uncategorized

Penalty Irate: A Study on Persuasive Language Techniques as used by Australian Journalists

Penalty rates, first implemented in Australia in 1947, have long comprised monetary compensation for business workers undertaking shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. Only recently, however, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed a legislation that would cut these weekend-specific wages – as a result, Australian journalists have scrambled to their keyboards in the race to assault their readers with their opinions and perspectives on the matter. In publications issued to The Australian, Huffington Post, and The Age, journalists Michaelia Cash and Tanya Plibersek, and cartoonist Bob Tandberg, respectively, utilised commonplace persuasive language techniques – including, but certainly are not limited to, use of imagery, exaggeration, alliteration, and appeals to emotions – to peddle their contentions to their relevant audiences. 
In an article published to the Huffington Post on the first of March, 2017, author Tanya Plibersek argues against Turnbull’s proposal from a feminist perspective, explicitly addressing a subsequently female audience. Despite asserting that “everyone’s wages are at risk,” Plibersek attempts to limit the focus of her article to females only, claiming that the majority of the “700,000 workers in hospitality,… retail, fast food and pharmacies” – industries which the cuts will directly apply to – are women. Plibersek’s reliance on arguing from anecdotes and personal experience accentuates her appeal to community values; she recounts weekends spent buying coffee, her “want” for “the person serving me that coffee…to get extra” “while we relax with family and friends”. She utilises exaggeration, through her ‘slippery slope’-type argument that the cut of penalty rates are “unlikely to stop there”, predicating that greater losses are yet to come. This is intended to outrage her female audience, as greater pay cuts in such women-heavy businesses are likely to affect them further. She demonises the moneyed corporations and the government, appealing to her readers’ emotions with the distantly wistful words “if Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals cared…” – words which suggest a clear conflict of interest between the powers that be, and the “people” they are intended to assist. 
In contrast, Bob Tandberg’s single-frame political cartoon features not a female, but a male waiter, reflecting with an expression of saddened defeat on what is being discussed at the table he is serving. “If we remove penalty rates / we’ll be able to make even more money at our fundraisers,” states the blue-suited man, words which suggest a corporate selfishness. That the man, his wife, his wine, and his words take up the clear majority of the entire frame, leaving the unhappy waiter bordering the far left side, represents the corporation’s inability to see the figurative ‘bigger picture’ of the issue. Rather, they have literally ‘turned their backs’ on the inconvenienced workers; the blue-suited man sits facing away from the waiter. Wearing an expression distinctly opposite to that of the waiter, the man in the blue suit is implied by Tandberg to be otherwise indifferent, if not outright ignorant, of the struggles of those beneath him. Again, as with Plibersek’s article, this is specifically drawing attention to the attitudes of those in positions of power; albeit, unlike Plibersek, Tandberg is not explicitly attacking said people, but rather, he is critiquing their stance. Hence, his contention is clear: that the motivation behind the government’s decision to abolish penalty rates is one of greed. Tandberg directly appeals to his audience of working-class Australians with his use of a dull colour scheme to detail the disheartened waiter: he is grey, as though the very vitality has been sucked from him by the contrastingly vivid politicians. 
Michaelia Cash’s article – “Penalty rates a big deal for small businesses, as two-faced Shorten knows”, originally published to The Australian on the 15th of March, 2017 – proposes a contention opposite to those argued by Tandberg and Plibersek. “More people want to work on Sundays,” Cash boldly states, a blatant contradiction to Plibersek’s anecdote of lonely Millennial baristas being forced to stand behind coffee machines on the weekend. Cash further suggests the issue of small businesses versus big businesses, citing statistics of weekend wage difference between McDonald’s and a “suburban greengrocer”. Akin to Plibersek, she is appealing to community values and attacking the government, except clearly from a different perspective. Cash sympathises with “small business” owners – unlike Tandberg, whose sympathies are geared towards the business workers – and encourages her audience of upper-middle class Australians to do the same. Opposition leader Bill Shorten is portrayed as an unlikeable, outdated figure by Cash, a ploy used to manipulate her readers into not letting their position align with his obviously ignorant one – this thus strengthens her contention that Shorten fails to recognise that penalty rates negatively impact the smaller businesses. She mocks him with the tired adage “throws a wobbly”, likening him to an old man apt to shaking his fist at a passing cloud. Her language regarding small businesses, however, is less critical. The alliteration present in her summative statement that small business owners are “too busy working to whinge,” is Cash highlighting the banality of their jobs, subsequently commending them for their perseverance. “Shorten…” however, “…disregards the interests of small businesses and the jobs they create” and, as Cash claims, will continue to “attack…their viability”. 
In summation, the controversial topic of the abolition of penalty rates has drawn a disparity of contentions out from the opinionated minds of Australian journalists. So long as the issue remains relevant to daily Australian life, so will these journalists expound their contentions in perpetuity; supported, as always, with copious use of persuasive language techniques. 


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