The Plain Language Bill 2021 – It’s a race to the bottom, folks…
It is something of a perplexing juxtaposition to see recent reports that “streaming in schools” is discriminatory and racist and yet, surely, The Plain Language Bill is much the same. It is implicitly assuming the hearer/reader lacks a certain level of intelligence or education.
Policy-makers are now planning a monumental makeover for the legalese inherent in public documents that interface We, The People and Them, The Red Tape Brigade. To create a new “plain language” framework in the simplest possible terms.
But who defines what is plain and what is not? Unlike yoghurt, not so clear-cut. Ohhh the irony - that the definition of “plain language” in the Act has already been revised, because it was not written clearly enough. You simply cannot make this stuff up. Sure, one size does not fit all, but a bureaucratic layer cake will be the end result, with further incremental costs to the taxpayer.
Does this process not amount to the “dumbing-down” of the (English) language to cater for a real or imagined “lowest common denominator?”
The Plain Language Bill is unlikely to do New Zealand much credit on the world stage, and those who voted it into law could at least have the grace to blush. Australian and British newspapers are certainly having bit of fun with it. “Plain is”, as “plain does” – but will it pay dividends? I doubt it.
The Public Servants of this country, as if not hard-pressed enough, will now be paying lip-service to a government that already owes us an explanation as to the what and where, and why and how much? Telling adults how to communicate in “simplistic terms” is a slippery slope down the rabbit-hole of more State control. Put simply, it stinks.
The beauty and eloquence of language, of any language, has been captured by writers, poets, politicians and public figures since before Bible times. People generally love creative expression, and learn to emulate it.
For those who can recall the idiosyncratic Barrister Horace Rumpole of The Bailey, it was indeed his wont to recite passages from classic poems and plays as a distraction device in the Courtroom, much to the undiluted delight of his audience.
But back to The Bill – leaving no past participle unturned, enforcement will be the order of the day, (when they cannot fill potholes or stop ram raids). “Plain Language Officers” will “report” agencies that fail to comply. So, what are the dire consequences for those miscreants who digress from the prescribed formulae of Plain Language?
Perhaps these rumbunctious rapscallions should have to write 100 lines for every breach?
“I will no longer overly-complicate the convoluted utterances that formulated the inexplicably complex labyrinth of variegated vernacular and dialectic aberrations I have thus far employed…”
Now, let me explain about Royal Assent…
Jacqueline Athanasatos is a former Journalist, television scriptwriter and freelance writer.