There was sheer genius in Kevin Rudd’s address to the parliament yesterday where he apologised to the stolen generation. There was soaring rhetoric, colloquialisms and even a (rather highbrow) joke.

The bureaucrat emerged from time to time, but Rudd’s logic could not be faulted:

[R]econciliation is in fact an expression of a core value of our nation—and that value is a fair go for all. There is a deep and abiding belief in the Australian community that, for the stolen generations, there was no fair go at all. There is a pretty basic Aussie belief that says that it is time to put right this most outrageous of wrongs.

It is for these reasons, quite apart from concerns of fundamental human decency, that the governments and parliaments of this nation must make this apology—because, put simply, the laws that our parliaments enacted made the stolen generations possible.

We, the parliaments of the nation, are ultimately responsible, not those who gave effect to our laws…

The parliament apologised yesterday, but more has happened. Kevin Rudd has sought to end partisanship in indigenous affairs with his “war cabinet” proposal. Brendan Nelson took his hand.

Most meaningful of all, however, has been his commitment to give us all, as citizens of Australia, the chance to play our part and realise what he called “the unfulfilled spirit of the 1967 referendum” and to vote at some stage in a referendum to provide for “constitutional recognition of the first Australians”.

Morality and clever politics rarely come together. Yesterday Kevin Rudd ensured that they did.

That is what makes the behaviour of his staffers Lachlan Harris and Tim Gleason so entirely contemptible. Yesterday, Kevin Rudd sought to unite Australia. Harris and Gleason played puerile politics.

Their boss then played the public servant when he told the parliament that his chief of staff – not him – had “counselled” them, using the public service weasel word.

Rudd made a tough decision saying sorry. If he is serious about bringing Australians together, sacking Harris and Gleason shouldn’t be tough at all.

Peter Fray

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