The popular view of political correctness is that it is an exclusively left wing phenomenon.
Two seasonally appropriate examples of “political correctness gone mad” are craven shopping centres removing Nativity scenes so as not to offend Muslims and bushfires caused by Green/ALP opposition to backburning.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made use of this public perception on Monday when he defended his use of the term “illegal arrival” to describe asylum seekers who arrived by boat.
“I’m not going to make any apologies for not using politically correct language to describe something that I’m trying to stop.”
By railing against an imagined PC-brigade Morrison was sending a signal to conservative voters that he was a sensible man; someone who “calls a spade a spade” as opposed to the apocryphal disabled lesbians of colour who want to rename blackboards “chalkboards” and change manhole to “non-gender specific street apertures”.
However, by prescribing the use of phrases like “illegal” and “detainee”, Morrison and the Government as a whole are also guilty of using politically correct language, albeit a correctness based on Australia’s new political reality
The latest Mapping of Social Cohesion survey released this week showed a shift in the population’s attitude towards asylum seekers.
The percentage of people who supported giving permanent residency to asylum seekers who arrived by boat had fallen from 23 per cent in 2012 to 18 per cent this year. Conversely those supporting towing back asylum boats had risen from 26 per cent to 33.
Those who wanted to tow back the boats were more likely to vote for the Liberal or National parties so the Government has a good reason to validate their beliefs.
While the more familiar version of political correctness did occasionally hover close to self-parody (anyone remember the Seattle school that renamed Easter eggs “spring spheres”?) at least it had the noble aim of avoiding offence.
Contrast that with the new version, which is about maintaining the same political climate that helped the Coalition win the election.
It can seen in the way the way then-opposition leader Tony Abbott mused during the election about reviewing the presence of unions and the ALP in the history curriculum.
It is also present when the Prime Minister and his front bench constantly refer to the previous government’s Clean Energy Bill as “the carbon tax” in official press releases.
This choice of language is similar to George Orwell’s Newspeak in that both seek to “narrow the range of thought” and control the political debate.
The more the Coalition repeated “stop the boats” and “axe the tax”, the more support they gained in the electorate which in turn forced the resurrected Kevin Rudd to “lurch to the right”.
Semantically there is no difference between Morrison renaming asylum seekers “illegal arrival” and gay marriage being rebadged as “marriage equality”. Both are examples of redefinition aimed at claiming a political advantage.
However, it is only Morrison who demonstrates the hypocrisy of claiming to to be anti-PC while manipulating the language to his own political advantage.