How’s that whistle, little doggie?

Given the fascinating discussion happening in my piece about the Citizenship Test — and there’s plenty for me to respond to, I know, I’ll get to it — it’s appropriate to mention the Australia Institute’s new report Under the Radar: Dog-Whistle Politics in Australia.

You can download the table of contents and summary (21k PDF) free. The full report is $21.

To quote from the media release:

“Dog whistling allows politicians to subliminally send multiple and ambiguous messages to voters whilst denying they are doing so,” [Australia Institute Executive Director] Dr [Clive] Hamilton said. “It is becoming a refined art in Australia.”

The paper defines the common features of dog-whistle politics as: deniability; a select target audience; and coded, implicit or subliminal communication.

Words and phrases commonly used in dog whistling include: “Australian values”; “the guilt industry”; “the thought police”; “the black armband view of history”; “practical reconciliation”; “border protection”; and “be alert but not alarmed”.

Study author Josh Fear said: “Dog whistlers have been well-placed recently to exploit community concerns arising from overseas conflict and the threat of terrorism. They have also sought to create and inflame paranoia about minority groups and outsiders, and to taint the politics of immigration and Aboriginal affairs with parochialism and suspicion.

If the dog whistle is done well, only the target audience has the cipher to crack the code, while those on the outside remain oblivious. Even some of its perpetrators fail to understand the extent to which this undermines democracy. Dog whistling works insidiously against the clarity and directness which is essential in political communication, because voters have to make judgements about which individual or party is best placed to represent their interests.”

Mr Fear said politicians on the conservative side of politics are more likely to use dog-whistle tactics. Politicians to the left of centre seeking to distort the truth are more likely to resort to “spin”.

I’ll probably read the full report across the weekend. I daresay I’ll have something to say.

And I do like the fact that the report has been written by a Mr Fear.