One of the features of Australian politics which makes it different to American politics is the greater levels of party unity our parliamentarians show. Here is Australia, it is big news when a member of the government states that he holds a personal and political position on a topic which is different to that of the Prime Minister. But in the United States it takes a Presidential candidate calling another member of his party ‘an idiot’ to make the news.
There is, however, one time when tradition in the Australian Parliament encourages politicians to speak their minds, to talk about their personal views and beliefs, their background and their journey to Parliament House. This is the first speech.
This is a courtesy extended to every new member and senator and allows them to speak without interruption about themselves and their plans as a parliamentarian.
So, I thought that an analysis of the words most frequently used by new members from the majour parties and from the cross benches might give some insight into the stories that motivate parliamentarians from different sides of the chambers.
I collected the first speeches of all new members and senators that were delivered in 2014 and 2015 and analysed the frequency of each word used.
The first thing that’s noticeable is the similarities. Members and senators of all persuasions talk a lot about ‘Australia’, ‘Australians’ and being ‘Australian’. Interestingly, the graphs of all parties show a much higher frequency of adjectives and adverbs than I’ve shown before in budget second readings and in ARC grants. Things are ‘great’ and there are ‘many’ ‘more’.
The differences are also really profound. Despite Labour receiving such a drubbing at the election at which these parliamentarians were elected, the most frequently used word by Labor speakers was their party name. Other core Labor issues were right behind: union and support.
Coalition parliamentarians were less obviously partisan but one word really stood out. These were the only members and senators who were frequently thankful.
The cross benches are characteristically complicated. There’s certainly no obvious theme which isn’t surprising considering the very mixed allegiances of the cross bench which was elected at the 2014 election.