The retired Lieutenant General on Wednesday launched a new Diversity Council Australia video which aims to crack down on language which excludes minority groups.
“Exclusive language, gender-based language or inappropriate language, has as much a deleterious or disadvantaged effect as something where you’re saying something blatantly inappropriate to another human being,” General Morrison told ABC News Breakfast.
He said he was not trying to become the “language police” by supporting the new campaign, and expected to be criticised for the idea.
The #WordsAtWork campaign video depicts a group of women rolling their eyes at being called “girls” by a male colleague.
“All the campaign is doing is saying look, it’s a proven fact that more inclusive [and] more diverse workforces create real diversity of thinking and are more productive, more effective,” General Morrison said.
“And one of the ways that you can engender that type of environment is being careful about how you speak to other people, talking to them with respect and listening to their views with respect.”
The campaign also promotes gender equality, calls for the word “gay” not to be used in a negative fashion, and strongly discourages the use of other offensive terms.
General Morrison said he was now trying to stop using the word “guys” when speaking to groups of people.
“I have now removed that from my lexicon as best I can, I think it’s important.”
However, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop cautioned against interfering with freedom of speech.
Ms Bishop said words such as “guys” were generic enough they should not cause offence.
“I don’t think we should try and interfere with the freedom of speech in this country to a point where people are too concerned about day-to-day conversations,” she said.
Guys’ commonly accepted by males and females: expert
Australian National University language expert Catherine Travis said she supported the campaign to rid stigmatised words from workplaces, but believed its aim to eliminate the term “guys” was trivial.
Dr Travis said the phrase “you guys” had evolved to include all genders and was commonly accepted.
She said the male element in the phrase “you guys” could be linked to a trait seen in languages like French and Spanish, where a masculine version of a word can be used when it is in plural form.
“The masculine form may be seen as more basic,” she said.
“The form that’s going to take off is the more frequent one, it’s going to be used in more circles and used with a more general meaning.
“‘Guys’ is much more generalised than the other examples in the clip, and so has much less risk of offending.
“That is, mum really only refers to a mum, girls only refers to girls, whereas the meaning of guys has changed to include males and females.”