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Learning English - Words in the News
19 August, 2005 - Published 12:11 GMT
Australian parliament bans the word 'mate'
Prime Minister John Howard and his mate President George Bush
Prime Minister John Howard and his mate President George Bush

One of Australia's best known terms of endearment has been banned in the Australian parliament. Security guards in the building have been ordered not to call people 'mate' but to address them as 'sir' or 'madam'. This report from Red Harrison:

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The Prime Minister John Howard was among the first to describe the ban as absurd and ridiculous, and well he might. Mate is one of John Howard's favourite words. He even calls President George Bush 'mate'.

The opposition labour party leader, Kim Beasley quickly saw an opportunity to make political capital - "not to call people mate is un-Australian", he says, "but it's also a reflection of the elitist culture of the conservative government which is all about masters and servants".

A former labour Prime Minister Bob Hawke says the ban is pomposity gone mad. Mr Hawke says the term "mate" is also folklore in the Australian labour party because if anyone significant calls you mate you know the knife is about to go in your back. And "mate" is also handy at official functions when you can't remember a name.

The ban was apparently imposed after a senior official complained of being called mate and security guards were ordered to be more courteous. Now the secretary of the parliamentary services, Hilary Penfold, says courtesy is fine but the ban went too far. It will be revoked later today.


Listen to the words


to make political capital
to gain an advantage over another political group, here, the conservative party

a reflection of the elitist culture
a sign that a group of people believes that it is superior to or better than other groups

pomposity gone mad
pompous means that you think you are more important than you are. Here, Bob Hawke is saying that this ban is very silly and unnecessary

(part of) the traditional stories and customs of a country, culture or organisation

the knife is about to go in your back
(often, a knife in the back or stabbed in the back) - someone is going to say or do something that will affect your reputation or name in a bad way even though they are being nice to you


to be more courteous
to be more polite and respectful

cancelled, stopped

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