May 22

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Promises Promises

The Eskimos have a zillion words for snow. Their environment and very survival demands a refinement of language that sets apart sloshy-no-good-for-igloos snow from powdery ya-hoo-let’s-sled type of snow.

The Australian political scene now needs a few extra words for ‘promise’. Clearly, there are now many sorts of promise. There is the bog-standard:

Promise   –         Explicit undertaking. Declaration of intending way forward. Commitment to an action.

Given that some political promises are now as reliable as a second-hand lawnmower, we need more nuanced types of promise, such as:

Promatoe –       This stands for PROMise MAde TO get Elected. These are non-binding promises.

There could be:

Prombroke –      This is a promise that is able to be broken due to imperatives neither suspected or known when the promise was made.

In addition:

Promonant –      A whopping great big promise that is an absolutely positively, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die sort of promise which is only broken sometimes.

To this could be added:

Promisquous –   An immoral unrestrained sort of promise which creates lots of immediate advantage but might be regretted in the long term.


Promenade –    a promise paraded and promoted for show only.


Promoshun –   a promise made for puffery and publicity. It is given with a set of steak knives.

Perhaps we shouldn’t get too cynical about our politicians. They are, after all, mere representatives of the people, and we people are not redolent in ability to keep our word. A footballer’s contractual promise has become as meaningless as many promises made at a wedding – so we need to be careful when chucking stones at fibbers.

But – how one yearns for the sort of statesmanship that can break a promise without breaking a reputation. ‘This is not a new tax, it’s a temporary fix’ – does not cut it as statesmanship.

Statesmanship is more like:

‘I’ve carefully considered whether to break a promise or break a bank, whether to protect myself or protect Australia, whether to seek popularity or seek a solution to a problem that must be solved. Because Australia is spending more than it saves. Because we are sliding into debt. Because we will incur a burden that will ruin our children, I ask Australia to release me from my promise of no new taxes. There must be new taxes and there must be new savings. The health of our nation depends on it …’

OK – you might be able to do better, but you get the idea. Sometimes a promise must be broken. This is not good. It becomes less good when the breach is denied. This only adds a lie to the mix.

Respect is not gained this way. Whether it be a ‘I-don’t-recall’ defence to corruption charges or ‘the-dog-ate-it’ defence when homework is not done – it just doesn’t work.

Let’s acknowledge a state of imperfection that will require us to make back-flips. But, let’s at least stop insulting each other with inadequate denials or improbable excuses. If excuses are done well, it is called diplomacy. If it’s done really well, it’s called statesmanship.

Failing all else, we could tell the truth.

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