VCE Outcome 3: Language Analysis Essay

It has often been said of retired politicians that they should stay retired. Having given up (or lost) their mantle, it is not wise or wanted for them to comment on party affairs. Peter Costello though, has published a book of his memoirs, and is currently published by The Age on political matters. In his article “Three years that tried to shake our world” we see much of the old politician at work, and some extraordinary work by a qualified writer.

Why? Because the former front bencher is still firing shots at his opponents as if he were still able to aim, and without a political mandate, or constitual responsibility, he resorts to the most obvious of literary tricks.

Peter’s contention is that Labour’s “Building the Education Revolution” is a farce. First he provides us with historical examples to devalue the program, then he attacks the program’s results, and he concludes by warning us that the current Prime Minister “will bury it” as if she were a tried and true communist dictator. Throughout his opinion piece he exhibits scorn, sarcasm and cynicism, and his several analogies paint a colourful picture of the Labour party.

The introductory paragraphs to Peter’s piece are not actually important to his argument as such, but they do provide an easy introduction to his piece. Presented with simple and familiar historical facts about the American, French and Russian revolutions, the reader is taken on a comfortable ride on Peter’s easy-going lesson. Yet when he gets to the point and asks about the Australian revolution, his scorn for the BER is applied directly to the reader through the use of the interrogative pronoun: “You didn’t know we had one?” Contrasted with the earlier examples of which we are familiar, his position sounds strong, his humour is apparent, and we are compelled to recognise his contempt.

In tracking the failures of the BER, Costello relies heavily on personal opinion, humour and derision, and is light on the use of facts. He asserts that the Government failed to provide computers as promised to students and does not feel it necessary to refer readers to quotes from schools or studies. Costello resorts to an old joke of his that his old opponents “got its sums wrong”, and he is somewhat funny to link this problem to the need for ministers to enjoy “better numeracy standards”. He challenges the costs of the BER as being implemented “whether they were wanted or not”, again without referred evidence, and he aims to emphasize his criticism by presenting the oxymoron of how to “save” the economy “by spending”. He describes the “omelette” the Government has made of the project, and extends the metaphor asserting “BER delivered breakages and spillages all over the country.” In this case he presents two examples, which form a tiny percentage of the $15 billion project. It may be that his scorn, his sarcasm, his light facts and his messy metaphors will appeal to some readers, yet I find it unsurprising and unconvincing for a politician to criticise their opponents and I am aware of facts that challenge and contest Peter’s position. The only convincing contentious sentence I discover in this section of his piece is “one website does not a revolution make”, and his conclusion in this paragraph that the BER will be judged by its results for education is right. Yet Clearly Costello does follow his own logic, but expects us to judge by his malevolence!

Unfortunately, the most striking use of language is the illustration of the Labour party. Costello deliberately plants the seeds of Communism in his article: his headline that heralds the revolution; his historical reference to the Bolsheviks in the first section; his quote from Stalin in the second. In concluding all subtlety is done away with – the Government is compared directly to Castro, and Gillard is called “our Comrade Leader”. This is a loaded term, and provocative in the extreme, but Costello is not the first to paint the party Red. To do so, however, is to appeal to base politics, and if Costello thinks such obvious jokes qualify him to write in future…

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