Framing fires

datePosted on 16:03, February 10th, 2009 by Lew

Parliament is sitting today, and the 2009 session rightly opened with a unanimous motion of support for those affected by the Victoria bushfires. The events themselves have been very thoroughly covered on NZ media and internationally, but what I’m interested in is the way in which our politicians have been speaking about them. So, a quick look at each party’s contribution to the debate of the motion this afternoon.

John Key, National: Emphasised close cultural, economic and military relationship – “like no other”, and history of mutual support in times of need. Strong sporting rivalry means strong cultural ties. Firefighters as heroes who care not for borders and are an example to us all. Top-level links between himself and Rudd. Closed with “kia kaha”. Focused on the magnitude of the events on Australia, though a questionable choice of words with “the enormity of what is happening has burned into our consciousness”. Strongly-worded, statesmanlike, decisive.

Phil Goff, Labour: Spoke for “all New Zealanders”, focusing on impact on families of victims and the “human tragedy” and loss of property. Used family and sport metaphors for the strength of the relationship, like Key. The offer of 100 firefighters “was a good first step”. Generally somewhat procedural, lacked the bite of Key’s speech.

Russel Norman, Green: Very brief. Ticks off main points re support for the motion and assistance, and “respectfully note” the debate on climate change in Australia – but perhaps wisely doesn’t make too much of this.

Rodney Hide, ACT: “All New Zealanders” and “brothers and sisters”, again. Moved quickly to Rudd’s “hell on earth”, then to the possible criminal element behind the fires, hoping that those who committed the “evil” of the arson receive their “just desserts”. He’s angry, first and foremost.

Tariana Turia, māori party: Expressed sympathies in the first place to “the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd” and then to those “families and communities” who have suffered – formally, she’s speaking as ariki ki te ariki, I think. Rather than using family as a metaphor, highlighted the fact that many New Zealanders actually have relatives in Victoria. Fire is “merciless”, families are “scarred’. Said her party would “support the role that this government and this country will play” as if she’s not involved or hasn’t been consulted about it.

Jim Anderton, Progressive: “Brothers and sisters” again, emphasising global and historical magnitude of the fires. NZ being “compelled to share [victims'] grief”. Focused on rebuilding and the resilience and “Aussie dauntlessness”. Firefighters as heroes. Amazingly, he compared the fires to September 11 2001, rationalising it on the basis that the same proportion of population have supposedly been killed. Irony of flooding in Queensland at the same time. Generally a strong speech, but – September 11, WTF! At least he didn’t refer to the supposed arsonists as “terrorists”.

Peter Dunne, United Future: “Kith and kin”. Enormity of the events – “Australia’s worst peacetime tragedy”, which is rhetoric reminiscent of post-9/11. Warns that life will take a long time to return to normal. Talks about media imagery a lot. Encourages people to be “as generous with their resources as they are with their sentiments”.

I see a few true colours there, I think.

L

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12 Responses to “Framing fires”

  1. Carol on February 10th, 2009 at 16:37

    I haven’t seen these speeches. Thanks for the interesting summary of them. Was Key’s sppech quite masculine focused? …. sport & firefighters heroes & sports bonds. Rudd-Key bonding…. depends on how it was said.

  2. What would Hayek say on February 10th, 2009 at 16:40

    Good start – carry on.

  3. Lew on February 10th, 2009 at 16:46

    Carol,

    Was Key’s sppech quite masculine focused? …. sport & firefighters heroes & sports bonds. Rudd-Key bonding…. depends on how it was said.

    Yeah, it was – a speech of action and bravery and standing strong and such, and full of references to the ANZAC history. This is partly what I meant by “Strongly-worded, statesmanlike, decisisve.”

    L

  4. Carol on February 10th, 2009 at 16:56

    All those things are not necessarily male preserves, but they are often framed that way – maybe ignoring women’s participation in them, as well as the fact that some women also exhibit those “masculine” qualities of bravery, heroism and physcal struggle etc. Whereas, one of our major sporting contests with Aussie is netball.

    Also there was a gruelling tale told by an Aussie woman fire survivor, yesterday morning on Nat Rad 9-to-noon. She escaped from her house with her 2 sons and various pets, drove though thick black smoke and some fire to safety. Her partner is a firefighter and was still out there fighting the fires. Kathryn Ryan, like most of us probably, assumed her partner, the firefighter, is a man. In fact, it turned out she is a woman.

    So it does depend on the language and metaphors (ie framing) Key used, and whether he was drawing on traditional notions of masculinity.

  5. Lew on February 10th, 2009 at 17:06

    Carol,

    All those things are not necessarily male preserves, but they are often framed that way – maybe ignoring women’s participation in them, as well as the fact that some women also exhibit those “masculine” qualities of bravery, heroism and physcal struggle etc. [...] So it does depend on the language and metaphors (ie framing) Key used, and whether he was drawing on traditional notions of masculinity.

    Yes, and he was – simply by appealing to a default reading of those qualities and archetypes. While women and their possession of those or other qualities weren’t explicitly excluded, you could argue they were implicitly so. This was broadly true of all the speeches, aside from those noted concesstions such as “brothers and sisters”. The focus throughout was on resonance, not on inclusiveness.

    It’ll be interesting to go over the speeches in more detail once the Hansard transcript comes out.

    L

  6. Anita on February 10th, 2009 at 17:12

    Great post! :)

    I have been thinking about the way the victims have been framed. In particular the notion of them as “innocents” (which I’ve heard on radio and TV but I’m not sure I’ve seen written). Why does it matter whether they were innocent or not?

    What would they be if they weren’t innocents? Sinners? Criminals? Less-than-pure?

    I’m guessing it comes from “innocent bystanders”, in the sense that the fire happened to them not because of them. But it’s impossible to use “bystanders” for people who chose to stay behind to fight the fire, that makes them active participants (but no more culpable).

  7. Anita on February 10th, 2009 at 17:15

    Lew,

    I also listened to the speeches and I thought I heard Turia use whanau when talking about New Zealanders who have lost people lost to the fire, and families earlier in the speech. I wondered if the contrast marked her recognition that Australian families were hurt, but that she was speaking on behalf of her Māori constituency so it was whanau who have suffered losses.

    I guess all I’m saying is that I’m not convinced whanau and families are exactly synonymous when she speaks.

  8. Lew on February 10th, 2009 at 20:24

    Anita,

    I also listened to the speeches and I thought I heard Turia use whanau [...] she was speaking on behalf of her Māori constituency so it was whanau who have suffered losses.

    I guess all I’m saying is that I’m not convinced whanau and families are exactly synonymous when she speaks.

    Quite right, whānau and family are not the same in meaning or interchangeable in usage (though often employed as if they are). She also spoke of mokopuna. Given the number of Māori now resident in Australia, this seems a clear appeal to her constituency.

    Why does it matter whether they were innocent or not? [...] I’m guessing it comes from “innocent bystanders”, in the sense that the fire happened to them not because of them.

    I think it’s about having done nothing to deserve their fate. The shadow of arson over the case also makes it very easy to frame them as victims of crime which legitimates the sort of righteous anger Rodney Hide expresses; not simply unfortunate victims of circumstance which entails only sympathy for their plight. In this context those who remained at home to fight the fire can also be seen as heroes, protecting what’s rightfully theirs against the forces of “evil” (Hide’s word).

    I am genuinely thankful nobody has yet (to my knowledge) played the terrorism card – given the possibilities race politics, or resource politics, or the town/country divide, or any of the other aspects of rural Australian political thought which simmer just below boiling point a lot of the time (and given the call a year or so ago for extremist Muslims to simplify their methods and use forest fires as weapons of terror). I think it will get played, however, it’s just a matter of by whom, in what context, and against whom.

    Incidentally, as far as framing the victims goes, you can do worse than the galleries and such on The Age.

    L

  9. Pascal's bookie on February 12th, 2009 at 21:34

    I am genuinely thankful nobody has yet (to my knowledge) played the terrorism card … (and given the call a year or so ago for extremist Muslims to simplify their methods and use forest fires as weapons of terror). I think it will get played, however, it’s just a matter of by whom, in what context, and against whom.

    Surprise!!

    http://briefingroom.typepad.com/the_briefing_room/2009/02/did-al-qaida-li.html

  10. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 21:44

    PB,

    I found that very same Josh Gordon article when I searched The Age to see whether anyone had tried the argument on. Also, discussion with a few colleagues reveals that the `terrorism’ idea has since bubbled slowly in some of the more strident talkback venues across regional Australia.

    L

  11. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 21:45

    We actually got a hit yesterday off the search phrase “rudd act of terrorism fires”

    I’m not sure we were quite what they were looking for :)

  12. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 21:54

    Anita,

    We actually got a hit yesterday off the search phrase “rudd act of terrorism fires”

    Aww, I could have done with reading a comment by that guy. Just the one :)

    L

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