Communication Nation: The plain English edition

Events - 25 Aug 2016

“All public language inclines to pomposity and deceit, but modern public language inclines these ways acutely and nails it to the inclination.. it is also evasive and dishonest in its essence; abstract, devoid of useful information and concrete example, remote from human reality, filled not with detail but with hogwash.” Worst Words (2015), Don Watson. 

With several decades of close observation, author and speechwriter Don Watson is well placed to make the observation that we are in danger of losing our connection with citizens through poor use of language.

Meanwhile the importance of to-the-point communication in saving time and improving decision making has been highlighted by many leaders throughout history. In a 1940 memo to his cabinet colleagues Sir Winston Churchill warned against the temptation to ‘officialese jargon’ highlighting that “the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.”

Public sector effectiveness is critical at a time when our budgets are being reduced. Consistent use of more effective communication offers a sustainable means of lowering the cost of delivering public service.

This session determined the prevalence of ‘worst words’ in Western Australia’s public service, and identified opportunities for better communication. It highlighted those organisations who have cracked the secret of consistently producing easily understood plain English communication and the benefits it has brought.

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Sven Bluemmel
President IPAA WA;
Western Australian Information Commissioner





Speakers and Panel Members

Don Watson 
Author and speechwriter

Australian author and public speaker Don Watson (PhD 1977) gained a BA (Hons) from La Trobe University before graduating with a PhD from Monash. 

He was an academic historian for 10 years before resigning to write, among other things, political satire for TV and the stage (including The Gillies Report), and speeches for the Victorian Premier John Cain.

After time as a research fellow at The University of Melbourne he became Prime Minister Paul Keating's speechwriter and adviser. He stayed in that position until Keating's electoral defeat in 1996.

Dr Watson's columns, articles and essays have appeared in all major Australian journals and newspapers.

His best-selling books include Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: Paul Keating Prime Minister (2002), Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language (2003), and Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Clichés, Cant & Management Jargon (2004).

His book American Journeys (2008) won The Age Non-Fiction and Book of the Year awards, the inaugural Indie Award for Non-Fiction, and the Walkley Award for Non-Fiction.

His latest release Bendable Learnings: The Wisdom of Modern Management follows on from Death Sentence and Weasel Words.

Pip Strempel
Government communications manager

Pip Strempel is a communications manager in the Western Australian public sector. She has worked in a number of State Government departments and as a media adviser in Ministerial offices. Her background includes authoring academic research publications and tutoring university students in good writing techniques. Pip began her career as a print journalist, entering the industry as a cadet under the tutelage of a tough ‘old-school’ newspaper editor. It was that training that equipped her with the skills and discipline to write in plain English. She is now the principal communications officer with the State Government’s Regional Services Reform Unit. 

Alan Hancock
Writer, Scriptwriter
Dr Alan Hancock is an author and scriptwriter; his work is published internationally, and produced by the ABC and BBC. He has worked in business language training, and has a wide experience of training and mentoring writers and presenters. He works as a lecturer at ECU and Curtin University. Dr Hancock is a skilled and experienced presenter, who brings his understanding of, and skills in, stage work and storytelling to his presentations.
Emma Cooper
Manager Communications, Department of Transport

After completing a BA honors degree in London, Emma has held various Communications roles in the private and public sector both in Perth and London.

Emma started her career in a Marketing and Events role, working for a Railway Industry consultancy that provided specialist resources for international rail infrastructure and maintenance projects.

She then moved to the London Business School which is considered to be one of the worlds most highly, regarded postgraduate business schools. Her role was responsible for promoting the work of the schools professors and managing the distinguished speaker event series- distinguished speakers included Tony Blair (Prime Minister), Bill Gates, Peter Braebeck (CEO of Nestle), Douglas Daft (CEO Coca Cola) and David Bowie.

Emma relocated to Perth in 2001 where she worked for a Perth based fashion business and was responsible for managing the design and production of womenswear and the marketing and public relations.

She was the Marketing and External Affairs Manager for Liz Davenport, a Perth Based womenswear design.

In 2005 Emma joined the public sector and has held multiple roles, including :-

  • Public Relations Manager- Department for Planning and Infrastructure
  • Public Relations Manager- Department of Planning
  • Public Relations Manager- Department of Transport
  • Media and Marketing Manager- Royalties for Regions

Since 2012 Emma has been the Manager Communications at the Department of Transport and was recently involved in the development and implementation of the Perth Transport Plan Communications strategy, launched at the end of July.

She has worked with multiple Ministers over the years including Minister Alannah MacTiernan 2005-2008, Minister Grylls who was incredibly dedicated to driving the $6.1billion Royalties for Regions policy and projects, Minister Troy Buswell 2012-2015 and more recently Minister Dean Nalder 2015-2016.

NB: Emma will be joining this session as a panel member only.