The Language of the Rebuffed: Rhetoric, Expertise and Policy Advisers

When we think about expertise and rhetoric, we tend to assume an intrinsic connection to leadership and reasonable success. This is not surprising, given expertise must be persuasive for its practitioners to be legitimated as experts.

But what about experts who are rebuffed, whose advice is not validated by their audiences? Should they be viewed as unpersuasive, as poor performers? And, in making sense of Western democracies’ crisis of expertise, shouldn’t our focus also be on how rebuffed advice is constructed rhetorically? In other words, shouldn’t we try to characterise the language of uncompelling and ineffective experts – those who may be losing the struggle to be recognised as leaders?

When expertise is increasingly rebuffed, one wonders what is preventing it from being recognised and, by being rebuffed, whether it goes on to be somehow invalidated and delegitimised. When such failure is sustained, professionalism, trust and credibility wear away. What, then, are the implications of regular ‘rebuffedness’ and what can be done about it? To find out, I will examine a type of expert advice that mostly gets just one shot at the act of persuasion, is both extensive in its remit yet narrowly targeted at an almost single audience, and holds, for now, a position of relative dominance: the policy advice provided to the Australian government by its public service. Policy areas to be examined include taxation, national security, immigration and energy, each of which will demonstrate various tropes of expert advice that went on to be rebuffed.