Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Apology vs the Apologist

With the historical events of today still fresh, I feel compelled to say something.

The speech in which Kevin Rudd reiterated his formal apology to the Stolen Generations, as they've become known, was both eloquent and moving. His manner, and the words he used, either paint him as a man of great compassion and understanding, or a fine actor. I'd like to believe that he is the former.

The standing ovation at the end of Rudd's speech wasn't in recognition of a fine performance. It was for the content and the intent of the speech, and what it represented. I felt so moved as I saw old and young in the gallery, their faces distorted with emotion. And when he reached the final words in his speech, the applause was, for the most part (I'm looking at you, Wilson Tuckey) spontaneous and heartfelt. Everyone sensed that this was historical in a very real sense. This is a step that had to made to move forward, and the speed with which Rudd delivered on his promise says more about the need for such a gesture, rather than any political motivation.

But then Brendan Nelson had to open his yap. When a short "The Opposition seconds the motion, and I like wish to extend an apology to the people who have been wronged in the past" would have done, he went on. And on. And on.

There is certainly a time for discussion of what happens from now on, but it wasn't today. We all know that many remote communities are struggling with violence, drug, alcohol and sexual abuse, truancy, poor life expectancy. We all know that these things are abhorrent. They need to be dealt with. By what made Nelson feel that today was the best day to drag that out? In what tiny, dark back-alley of his mind did he think that it would be helpful to start spruiking the good work the Howard government supposedly started with the NT intervention, and to do so today, of all days? Why mention that there will be no avenues for compensation, "nor should there be"? Did any of the invited people in the gallery walk out in disgust at that point, cursing the fact that their compensation plans had been scuttled so soon? Of course not, but they did turn their backs in the Great Hall, because they were hurt. They were hurt because they heard the Leader of the Opposition say "Yes, we're sorry it happened, but be careful you don't misunderstand the motives of those who did it." It was a grudging apology of the first order.

Yes, today Kevin Rudd's speech about the apology, whereas Brendan Nelson was about apologetics.

I just hope for Dr Nelson's sake that no one ever drags his children, grandchildren or loved ones out of his arms, never to be seen again.