Examining Abbott’s Speech Style Commenting on ‘Bali Nine’ Duo

Courtesy: Merdeka.com
Courtesy: Merdeka.com

Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, is notorious for his provocative statements mostly uttered during official press conference. The latest statement he said which sparked controversy amongst Indonesian people is about his repudiation of Indonesian law case on Bali Nine ‘the convicted drug smugglers’. Indonesian government stood out against a few of Australian asking the execution of duo Bali Nine to be halted with no exceptions.

Herein, we are about to see the word meaning and the reference Abbott may have referred in his utterance and from which, we can derive the verbal-diplomatic style of his. To begin with, this is one of his provocative statements which becomes our concern:

Let’s not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars’ worth of assistance, we sent a significant contingent of our armed forces to help in Indonesia with humanitarian relief…

As seen from a transcription above, an expression let’s not forget used by Abbott may mean that he personally invited Indonesia, in this sense, to feel the same way as what he, as a representation of Australian people, was feeling at that very moment. It may also indicate that Abbott expected Indonesian government to do what he wanted them to as shown by the existence the word let’s.

The next part includes a noun worth; Abbott is likely to stress out the meaning of assistance his country had given to Indonesia in the past years. Also, it is followed by a significant contingent, which is absolutely wordy. Judging by those two expressions, it seems that his utterance is mostly tied by the subjectivity of the speaker, which is Abbott himself. The speech style of Abbott is notorious for its stern and tough remarks, and the statement he said may lead to undermine a diplomatic strategy being made effort to save the lives of two Australians presumed to have smuggled heroine (Garnaut:2015).

            The first part of the transcription is also followed by the second part, as follows.

We will be letting Indonesia know in absolutely unambiguous terms that we feel grievously let down.

The use of reference we there signifies that what is going to be delivered at that time is a collective statement rather than personal statement. This is to give emphasis that Abbot, as a Prime Minister of Australia at that time of speaking, positioned his figure as a ‘messenger’ of Australian’s opinion toward Bali nine death penalty rather than a ‘political figure’—showing that this issue is Australian common interest rather than personal interest. Actually the word we may refer to Australian people or the government.  We prefer choosing the former considering the situation, in which death penalty is the issue – the human right issue. It is likely to be more adequate and effective to refer to people (Australians) rather than politic (government) since human right issue is all humankind concern. The other reference mentioned is Indonesia. As the addressee, Indonesia refers to the government since the death penalty is about governmental policy. Indonesia gives a significance that the statement is made specifically only for Indonesia.

Still in beginning of the statement, Abbot employs two emotive lexicons placed side by side: grievously (adv.) and let down (noun). The choice of an adverb grievously has, of course, a reason, instead of selecting the other adverbs of manner, such as completely, deeply and very. Abbot’s choice goes to ‘grievously’ which is not only to indicate degree but emotive feelings, as well. Grievously indicates the pain, which is the same as being let down. The omission of grievously is actually possible, as being let down already means sad and pain. However, to strengthen his point, grievously whose meaning emotionally is similar to being let down was chosen. ‘Grievously let down’ moreover gives significance that the disappointment felt by Australian is indeed there.

Lexicons, which are used to make meaning crystal clear, are also found in paragraph one, namely absolutely (adv.) and unambiguous (adj.) à “absolutely unambiguous term”. As an adverb of manner, it absolutely gives a significance in the sense that Abbot did believe in what he was going to say while unambiguous indicates that what he was going to say is completely clear.

The next part of Abbott’s statement is:

I would say to the Indonesian people and the Indonesian government: we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time.

The problem indicated by this statement is the word reciprocate, pronoun you and the adverb in this way and at this time. A verb to reciprocate means ‘to share the same feelings as someone else, or to behave in the same way as someone else’ (Cambridge Dictionary). Abbott, again, asked Indonesian people to look back at the times Indonesia enlisted some help from Australia when a tsunami hit the Sumatera west coasts.

            Meanwhile, pronoun you may refer to Indonesian government, Indonesian people as the whole, or perhaps certain people Abbott pinpointed, including the Indonesian president. The pronoun you is mentioned twice in this statement and there is likelihood that Abbott emphasised his remark. Adverbs in this way and at this time are ‘time-constrained’. It is somewhat hazy to draw conclusion that at this time is similar to as soon as possible or immediately.

            In conclusion, the official speech addressed by Tony Abbott is full of intriguing word choice which needs revisiting. The utterance conceals the actual meaning of the whole part, and interestingly, it may be a characteristic of the way Abbott delivers his speech anytime and anywhere. One’s speaking style is actually identifiable on the basis of spoken style which includes the word choice and tone. After all, we assume that Abbott’s comment on the execution of Bali Nine duo is intriguing to study.


Garnaut, J. (2015, February 20). Fears Tony Abbott has damaged Bali nine diplomacy. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/fears-tony-abbott-has-damaged-bali-nine-diplomacy-20150220-13j3tn.html

Reciprocate. (n.d.). In Cambridge Dictionaries Online. Retrieved from http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/reciprocate

You can also watch a video of Abbott’s comment on Bali Nine duo execution HERE

This post was a part of Final Assignment for Stylistics course completed and submitted by the blog owner, as well as Anggia in May 2015. Whatever written in this post is prone to subjective views, yet somehow, still acknowledging the established facts for a fundamental theory.


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