I've always been keen to avoid political discussion on this blog - it is, after all, more about... well, me, to be brutally frank. And about books and writing as well. But politics? Nah, wasn't all that keen. I am very interested in the topic, and will happily put my hand up as a Howard-hater and cautious Rudd-lover. But soap-boxing isn't quite my thing.
Until this morning, when I went to the Sydney Morning Herald site and saw the article linked above, (written by Phillip Coorey) which discusses Howard's sudden interest in symbolic Aboriginal reconciliation.
To lift a couple of quotes from the piece:
Mr Howard, who has driven conservative opposition against symbolism for more than a decade, has admitted he erred throughout his prime ministership by trying to achieve reconciliation through practical measures while shunning symbolic gestures.
Right. And? Anything we didn't know?
Well, Howard is also quoted as saying this, on the matter of an apology to the Stolen Generation:
"To typify this as just whether you say sorry or don't say sorry is to misunderstand what's involved and to trivialise the issue."
OK, I really feel the need to say something here. First, there are a lot of indigenous Australians who find the idea of an apology far from trivial. Most of those indigenous Australians also understand that it is only a tiny part of what needs addressing, but to them it is an important part. But according to what Howard's said above, it's just a word, and the issue is much bigger than just a word. So Mr Howard, if it's such a triviality, why are you so fearful of it?
Here's why: he's concerned about the possibility of wide-ranging legal accountability. Therefore he refuses to apologise, for fear of self-incrimination. Which, by inference, means it's not a triviality at all. You can't in fact have it both ways.
He's tried this bet-hedging caper before, of course. Three years ago he told us that interest rates historically went up under Labor, so by projection, the same would happen again, should Mark Latham get in. He and his treasurer were responsible for record low rates. But then, when rates went up under Howard, it wasn't because of the government; 'Oh no, the Reserve Bank controls those, you silly sods.'
You can't have it both ways.
Then there's Kevin Andrews, who (bless him) is probably only doing his leader's bidding. When Dr Haneef was turfed out of our country for having once owned a mobile phone, Andrews asked Kevin Rudd what he might have done differently. Buying time to get some facts, Rudd replied, 'On the face of it, and judging by the info we have, nothing.'
Andrews and the rest of the members on my right howled with derision. 'You can't just agree with me! What would you have done differently? Come on! Tell us!' In other words, we want bipartisan support for our actions, but we want to debate you (read 'grandstand') until we get it, so we can show you how clever we are, and explore our deepest prejudices in a public forum.
You can't have it both ways.
Howard has, for the last decade, shown through his actions that he is deeply conservative and profoundly heartless. He's also shrewd - we should acknowledge that. But has he lost his shrewd edge, and simply become too obvious? Now, on the brink of calling the election that many of us hope will be his last, he's chosen to wrest real, physical, human rights away from indigenous Australians with one hand, but offer symbolic rights with the other.
Sorry, Mr Howard, but you can't have it both ways.