Politics has once again got in the way of pragmatism and principle. I am, of course, referring to the feigned Liberal outrage over the long-awaited delivery of a national apology to members of the Stolen Generations.
Media reports claim that when parliament resumes next month, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will utter the five letter word that so bedevilled his predecessor: sorry.
This sorry saga is by far the saddest of our recent history. It all began in 1996, with the delivery of the Bringing Them Home report, which recommended among other things an apology and compensation. The Liberals thought otherwise.
Howard’s former speechwriter, Christopher Pearson claimed at the time (in a
4 Corners interview) that Howard saw the entry of Aboriginal Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway to parliament as an opportunity to erase from memory his ‘low ebb’ performance at the 1997 Reconciliation Convention in Melbourne (the one where a red-faced Howard banged the lectern and yelled at the crowd, who responded by turning their backs on him).
In fact, as history now clearly shows, Howard actually saw an opportunity for a bit of race-wedge politics. Howard’s office put forward a draft statement that deliberately excluded the word sorry, and when the Democrats and members of the Stolen Generations inevitably rejected it, Howard went ahead and delivered it.
It was a wedge Howard would use very effectively on numerous occasion over the next 10 years, including in the dying days of his Prime Ministership when he spent one afternoon talking to the media about recognition of Aboriginal people in the constitution, and then the better party of a week feeding the sorry debate.
Of course, Howard was ably assisted by his enthusiastic colleagues back then, and some are unfortunately still stealing our oxygen today.
Earlier this week, Member for O’Connor, Wilson ‘Iron Bar’ Tuckey, not only couldn’t stomach an apology, he got his knickers in a knot over the news Aboriginal dancers are rumoured to be opening the 42nd Parliament.
Tuckey, apparently off his medication again, reportedly told ABC Radio earlier this week: “I’m horrified and concerned that we’re going to turn the Parliament of Australia into a dance parlour…. Why not put neon signs on the top of Parliament, you know dances every Friday night.”
You’d think it was precisely the sort of comments that represent a ‘dark Liberal past’, thus precisely the sort of stuff the party leadership would try to distance itself from. No such luck.
Opposition leader Brendan Nelson told media that an apology to the Stolen Generations shouldn’t be a Labor priority. He repeated Howard’s no brainer line about “today’s generation apologising for the mistakes of past generations past…”
Nelson urged everyone “not to lose sight of the fact that there are fair dinkum everyday working Australians who are concerned about this issue but are also concerned about the cost of their homes, putting petrol in their car and buying food for their kids.”
His use of the term ‘fair dinkum’ aside, Nelson is, of course, trying to appear pragmatic. But pragmatism surely would involve delivering an apology — genuine or otherwise, if for no other reason than to get the issue off the agenda and allow us all to move on.
So Nelson is not being pragmatic. Like those before him, and some still beside him, he’s just playing politics.
It’s worth noting that Malcolm Turnbull, during his pitch to become leader, accepted that it was ridiculous to continue to refuse to apologise to members of the Stolen Generations. Do us all a favour Malcolm, and tap that ageing hippie on the shoulder before he does so much damage to your party that even Corey Delaney won’t be able to save it.
Fortunately for Nelson, any damage he may inflict on the Liberals will probably be off-set by the fact that Warren Mundine is a member of the Labor Party.
Mundine — ALP former president and right-wing Aboriginal resident — has used the ‘sorry debate’ to take “me me me” politics, not to mention inconsistency and ‘malleable opinions’ — to a whole new level.
In 2003, at the NSW state conference, the Indigenous People and Reconciliation Committee called on NSW Labor to “continue to seek an appropriate response to the Stolen Generations by the Federal Government including the establishment of a national reparations tribunal.”
Warren Mundine — chair of the Indigenous committee — actually moved the motion.
But less than a year later, Mundine was telling The Sydney Morning Herald that not only was compensation unnecessary, but that neither was an apology. It never fails to amaze me how people like Mundine who are NOT members of the Stolen Generations get so much space in the mainstream media to discuss the relevance or otherwise of an apology.
That aside, in 2008, Mundine is now arguing that an apology is a good thing, but that compensation is not needed. This man is a human headline created by The Australian newspaper. God help him if a real journalist ever gets to interview him.
The sad reality of this sorry sage is that it’s politics that is the biggest killer of Aboriginal people. And with that in mind, the determination of Rudd, Jenny Macklin and other ALP figures to finalise this issue and get it off the political stage is worthy of great praise.
Not only does it remove Brendan Nelson’s wedge and strengthen Malcolm Turnbull’s bid to replace him; not only does it fumigate parliament of the stench left by The Rat; and not only does it give Warren Mundine another opportunity to embarrass himself publicly; it begins the process of wiping a terrible stain from Australia’s past.
But best of all, if we can somehow force old Wilson Tuckey to sit in the chamber through the whole ordeal, there’s a very real chance his head might explode. That would do more for reconciliation than any apology ever could.