What’s in a meme?

Memes are a great way to quickly communicate on social media and if you get them right, they can reach huge audiences through the viral nature of ‘hey guys, look at this!’ sharing activity. But too often I see memes which are complicated and are missing one vital ingredient: a single-minded message.

Here’s an example. This meme is promoting Labor’s asylum seeker policy:


It’s a nice, straight forward list of the various elements of the policy. But what’s missing is a clean, swift, dart-in-the-bullseyes explanation for where Labor stands on asylum seeker policy. This is a communication opportunity gone to waste because as you have probably noticed on your own social media account, it’s rare for people to share memes which don’t quickly convey a ‘value’ message.

To explain this concept better, I will borrow from Drew Westen. Westen is a scholar who has a lot to say about the value of sign-posting communication with values, rather than just relying on dispassionate lists of facts and figures. In Westen’s book The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation he makes his point using this simple example.

Read the following statement:

The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many… After the procedure is completed, one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually they will be used once more and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated.

If you’re like me, you got to the end of this passage and silently said ‘what the?’ I read it twice and still wasn’t sure what on earth the point of these instructions were. And I definitely did not remember the order of what I was told to do.

Westen says this ‘task isn’t easy. But it’s a lot easier if you’re first given the title: ‘Washing Clothes’’. Light bulb moment anyone? These instructions are all to do with washing clothes. Do you get it now? See why this asylum seeker policy meme is just a list of disparate ‘things’ that aren’t tied together with a single ‘clothes washing’ meaning? No opportunity to communicate should be hung out to dry as a laundry list of statements without delivering a meaningful, value laden message.

Labor’s Mining Tax – take two

This is how I would have launched Labor’s Resources Super Profits Tax.

Mining dividends for resource owners

The long term tax plan we release today will provide Australians with long overdue dividends from the resources that we all own. Every man, women and child in Australia – all twenty two million of us – own shares in Australia’s natural resource wealth. But for a long time, we have not been receiving our share of the huge profits a few companies are reaping from digging up the resources we own. And worse than this, many mining companies are not even Australian owned, so this wealth that belongs to all of us is, in many cases, not even staying in our country. So we need to change this. We need to make sure the wealth from the resources we all own is better distributed amongst Australian shareholders. All of us are shareholders.

Now, let’s be clear. This mining tax is not designed as a disincentive to investment in Australia. Just because we want everyone to have their fair share, does not mean we don’t encourage investment by mining companies. And of course profit is needed to ensure investment takes place. But, as recommended in the Henry Tax Review, the best way to tax mining companies without harming investment, and without harming jobs, is to tax super profits. No job was ever lost from a super profits tax, because we know that while the resources are in the ground, and while profit can be made digging them out, there are plenty of companies lining up to do just that. And we know that these companies can’t take this business elsewhere, because the resources are here, in our country. We all own these resources, they belong to us, and we should be receiving our fair share of dividends to share this wealth more successfully amongst our whole community. Not just those rich enough to part-own, or in some cases, solely own mining companies.

There is no doubt that this announcement today will ruffle some feathers. The big mining companies have got used to making billions and billions of dollars profit and they won’t appreciate being reminded that the resources aren’t theirs in the first place. But this government doesn’t make policy based on the priorities of a wealthy few. We represent all Australians and it would be wrong of us to continue to stand by and let our wealth drain away, without making sure we all receive our dividend. Once we start collecting your fair share, we will be distributing it fairly across the community, where it is needed most to:

  • generate more superannuation savings for working families;
  • lower tax for all companies, especially small businesses; and
  • invest in our future infrastructure needs, particularly for mining states.

This is a monumental day in Australia’s history, when we will start the process of reversing the inequitable distribution of wealth from our resources. We will finally do what is right by our community, our children and all our futures by ensuring we all reap the benefits of our share in the natural resources we all own. This is a proud day to be Australian Treasurer.

And the accompanying meme….