Two weeks ago, it emerged the Rudd Government announced it had no intention of making good on a pre-election pledge to move Australia Day to a date that’s more inclusive of all Australians, black and white.

Instead, the ALP’s National Platform would be rewritten to “remove any ambiguity” on the issue, announced ALP national secretary Karl Bitar.

Well this week, Kevin Rudd is back out breaking more black promises to Indigenous Australia. Welcome to the ‘Big-Kev-Crazy-Crazy-Crazy-Patriot-Everything’s-Gotta-Go-Black-Promises-Sale!’ Fair dinkum Aussie bargains! Never to be repeated pledges! No promise is too sacred! I’m excited!!

Last year, Rudd told the Progressive Governance Conference in London:

I have decided that each year in Australia’s Federal Parliament the first working day will be marked by a Prime Ministerial statement reporting on progress in closing the life expectancy gap, progress in closing the gap on infant mortality and mortality of children up to five, and progress on closing the literacy and numeracy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Well, yesterday was the first working day of parliament for the year. No report from Rudd. And, pointedly, no questions from journalists about why not. And no outrage about yet another broken promise to Aboriginal people. It seems the global financial crisis is more useful than we all thought after all.

What’s so extraordinary about this story is that the promise wasn’t just a passing ‘No Australian child will live in poverty’ style pledge delivered during an ad-hoc ‘freestylin’ session with ‘MC Rudd’.

This was a pledge that the PM went to some trouble to emphasise. “Each year we must know as a Government, as a people, and as a country if we have made progress closing this gap,” Rudd told the conference.

“We should not underestimate the size of this challenge. Many Governments with the best of intentions have failed in their attempts in the past. But the time has come for the debate to move on from intentions and focus on outcomes, because in this endeavour outcomes are what really matters.”

Rudd’s office backed up the speech with a media release the following day, officially announcing the annual report to parliament and adding: “Closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians is a core priority of the Government I lead.”

Back in Australia, Rudd Ministers dutifully praised their leader for the pledge, media gave the story a good run, and the government even received praise for the initiative from Tom Calma, Social Justice Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission and a tough critic of government inaction.

It was all warm and fuzzy stuff for a Prime Minister who had achieved international statesman status just months into the job by delivering the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

My personal favourite part of Rudd’s pledge was this line: “This annual statement will greatly increase pressure on my Government to make progress towards closing the gap. That is exactly why I am announcing it.”

And then promptly forgetting it. Which of course the PM’s office was yesterday vehemently denying.

A spokesperson for Rudd told the National Indigenous Times there was a risk the report “would not get the attention it deserved” because of the financial crisis. But apart from anything else, it was being moved to 12 February because that’s the day before the “one year anniversary of when the promise was first made.”

And how do we know that this simply panicked spin created when Rudd’s office realised, “Oh sh-t, look what we forgot”? Because the pledge was actually delivered in April 2008, three months after the National Apology.

Not only had Rudd’s office forgotten to prepare a report for parliament, but in seeking to excuse the blunder, his office didn’t even bother to go back and check when the promise was actually made.

It’s all a pretty ugly look for a government that has spent the better part of a year trying to milk the National Apology for all its worth on the international stage.

Speaking of which, here’s Rudd during the 13 February speech: “Australians are a passionate lot. We are also a very practical lot. For us, symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong. It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history.”

All sizzle. No sausage.

Peter Fray

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