Utegate is a scandal but what is a ute?

The Australian Government’s Utegate affair (June 2009) has been a wonderful bit of political accusation, counteraccusation and media manoeuvring. Kevin Rudd’s ute has tested the media and political skills of both sides of politics.

As far as political scandals go the effects of Utegate are likely to be transitory. The Australian Government managed to deflect the issue into challenging the credibility of an email at the centre of the allegations. So the PM managed to avoid damage by shifting the spotlight on to the Opposition Leader, who ended up with engine oil on his face.

The whole thing revolved around Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd‘s ute. It was a 1996 Mazda – lent to him by a Canberra motor dealer who then, allegedly, got special funding treatment from the Treasurer.

Now, although corruption is corruption, I think the PM borrowing a rusty, 13 year-old Mazda isn’t comparable with the British politicians and their rorts. The ute is not in good condition and probably worth less than $4,000. It is so basic that you would only drive it to move dirt from one place to another (or political slogans in this case). The state of the vehicle is probably more of an embarrassment for the prime minister than the bribe implication. We haven’t yet seen Mazda using the vehicle to promote their product range.

Many object to the press naming the incident Utegate. However, this is the most interesting part; it is very Australian and makes it completely incomprehensible to anyone from overseas.

If you from anywhere else in the world you would be asking the question what on earth is a ute? The answer is simple. It is short for a utility vehicle, that is, a sedan-sized truck mostly with a sided tray and a hinged tail-gate. The Americans call them pickups. The South Africans bakkies (most likely derived from the Afrikaans word bak for a baking tin but perhaps also derived as a variation on buggy).