No-one ever apologises for the big stuff. That was clear six months ago, when Paul Wolfowitz was forced to a grovelling apology (and ultimately lost his job) for illicitly promoting his girlfriend, but never had to apologise for helping start an illegal war.
Hence Tony Abbott spent yesterday saying “sorry”, for his slur on asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton and for turning up late to the National Press Club debate. But no apologies for the Iraq war, or for the stolen generations, or for the government’s ten years of denial on global warming.
Indeed, Nationals leader Mark Vaile is still a climate change sceptic, assuring us that “There is conflicting scientific evidence on it, on that whole concept”.
Which makes it very appropriate that asbestos became one of Abbott’s problems, because back in the 1980s it was the equivalent of global warming: the scientific evidence of its dangers was clear, but the debate was more politics than science. For the left, it was a stick with which to beat the mining and construction industries; for the right, it was all a left-wing anti-business conspiracy.
Although a few diehards continue to maintain that asbestos isn’t particularly dangerous, most of the right has moved on to other things.
But no-one as far as I recall ever apologised for their rearguard defence of the asbestos industry, or for the illness and premature deaths that it might have caused.
Global warming repeats the same thing on a larger scale. John Howard and most of his ministers now profess to accept the reality of the science, but with no apology for error, and no acknowledgement that their resistance was politically motivated. It’s hard to avoid the impression that they still privately regard it as a big left-wing beat-up.
If showing up half an hour late for a debate merits an apology, what about being ten years late on climate change?