The compulsory “Sorry Day” post

Originally I wasn’t going to write about today’s Parliamentary Apology to the Stolen Generations. But the event has so captured the nation that writing will clarify my own thoughts. So here goes…

I’ll get the obvious comments out of the way first. Kevin Rudd delivered the Apology with dignity and grace. Brendan Nelson’s speech was moving in parts, but fortunately his attempts to weasel it failed to sour the overall occasion. I agree with Paul Keating’s comment that Nelson missed the point of the day.

I was disgusted to hear that Chris Pearce, the Member for Aston, was reading a magazine and cracking jokes during Rudd’s speech.

As Chris Graham, editor of The National Indigenous Times reports in Crikey:

At the part where Rudd was talking about the tragedy of infant mortality,­ the “little ones” in Rudd’s words,­ Pearce was cracking a joke to the rather uncomfortable looking member of parliament sitting next to him.

In fact, Pearce was so against an apology, that he also sat and read through his own leader’s entire speech. When Rudd finished and received a standing ovation, Pearce was the only member of parliament to remain seated. It begs the question, why did he even show up?

Who voted this ignorant yobbo into Parliament? Mr Pearce, you’re entitled to hold an opinion, but at least show some manners in the House. You could hardly accuse Wilson Tuckey of being Australia’s best-mannered parliamentarian, but at least when he decided against the Apology he didn’t turn up.

The negative radio talkback callers were the people we always hear on these occasions: the whining, selfish, ignorant, bitter white-trash who seem incapable of seeing the world through anyone else’s eyes.

HEART FM Hobart 09:44 AM: Caller Ron says white man and the Aboriginal men will never assimilate, like in the north of America. As the white man made the farming lands Ron is looking at now. Ron says an Aboriginal burned an Australian flag that soldiers fought under…

2UE Sydney 09:37 AM: Caller Helen doesn’t agree with the apology to the Stolen Generations because Governments shouldn’t apologise every time there is a bad law. Says she has Aboriginal friends but says there are Aboriginal people out there that, no matter what you do for them, are never happy.

When I worked for ABC Radio I produced some 4000 hours of talk and talkback programs, and I heard far, far too many of these people complaining about the riches and luxuries supposedly showered on the blacks, dole-bludgers, single mothers, poofters, arts students, immigrants and anyone else who didn’t precisely match their own experience. They, of course, had always suffered through the depression, or the War, drought, floods, bushfires, poor health, hard work and high interest rates and were deserving of their handouts.

There probably weren’t ever that many of these folks. They just seemed to have so much spare time in which to phone talkback programs — probably because they’d driven away all their friends through constant whingeing.

Thankfully, it won’t be long before they’re all dead. It’s just a shame that certain legal impediments prevent us from hurrying things up a bit.

But I digress…

Chairman Rudd has set himself an interesting challenge with talk of a bi-partisan “war cabinet” and a referendum. Once the emotion of today’s grand symbolic gesture fades, how will all unfold, I wonder?

A grass-roots call rippled through Facebook for people to change their status message to “…is sorry”. Of the 65 of my friends who’d updated their status recently enough to count, 60% of them had done so — roughly two-thirds of them with the simple “…is sorry”, the rest with additional comments. Another 8% changed their status to some acknowledgement of the day.

By any measure, today was a major milestone in Australia’s history.

25 Replies to “The compulsory “Sorry Day” post”

  1. I can’t find it, but my memory is that Brendan Nelson said something to the effect that anyone who thought that the Aborigines had had it good should go to one of the remote communities and see if they’d like to live there.

    From a discourse analysis point of view, Nelson’s speech was interesting. It seemed there were a number of ‘voices’ in the text. I think his own was more sympathetic than his party would let him get away with. That does say a lot about his (lack of) leadership.

    Nonetheless, and hamfisted speech not withstanding, I was glad that the Liberal opposition as a whole were in the end willing to stand up and be counted, and to make this a bipartisan motion. That really does count.

  2. [W]hy did he even show up?

    Indeed. If he didn’t want to be a part of proceedings, why not just absent himself? At least then he would have conducted himself with a bit of decorum, rather than making an ass of himself and detracting from whatever point he was trying to make.

    Politicians.

    [sigh]

  3. I think Feb 13 would make a great candidate for Australia Day. Jan 1 would do, but surely Jan 26 (aka Invasion Day) makes even less sense now.

  4. @ Matty F

    Seconded.

    Besides, it would give all the St Valentine’s Day boycotters something to look forward to, and personally, I could use a public holiday right about now.

    Jan 26 always struck me as a little too Anglo-Australian centric, and if we’re going to celebrate our nationhood, surely we can find something better than the founding of a penal colony to commemorate.

    Admittedly, I’d probably continue to ignore Australia Day V 2.0, the same way I do the current version, because I’m the world’s least patriotic person, but y’know… if we’ve got to have a national day…

  5. how can you say the Mr. Pearce is a disgrace and then go on to your racist remarks and assimilate that any one whom calls a talk back radio show is “white trash”. how can you.
    Mr. Pearce is a voted/elected member to stand for the people whom voted for him, in this case to sit for the 90% of Australians whom didnt agree with the apology.

    All I saw on television today was racist bigetry, Brendon Nelson simply anounced that there would not be a compensation fund (something which Primeminister Rudd should have included in his speach) and he got boo’d, pictures of himself torn up and his speech turned off by the organisers of the rally, what happened to the freedom of speech, why are so many expecting compensation when they have said for so long that all they want is an apology. and now they want more…. as was expected.

    I`m probably going to get slated for my post, however I believe it is the centiment of the majority, just no one want to get bash by the minority for voicing their beliefs.

    I offer my apologies for the unfortunate people for whom where mistreated by the people who took advantage of the situation during the stolen generation, however i believe the intentions of the policy were correct and it unfortunate that there are such people whom derail good intentions. It is a shame i do admit but i dont see why a nation has to apology for a few

  6. @Quatrefoil: Yes, Brendan Nelson did indeed say something along those lines. That was one of the most striking parts of his speech, and one which seemed to be in his own voice. Yes, I agree that much of what he said was clearly written by others to appease whatever sentiments the party felt needed to be appeased.

    @Matty F and Sweet Sister Morphine: Actually, no, I think 13 February would make an appalling Australia Day. Yes, a massively important historical occasion, but one which is all about one particular people and their place in Australian history. It is not a day which can be about “making the nation”.

    @jism: Unfortunately the dodgy spelling and grammar in your comment make it all to easy to write it off as ignorance. Nevertheless I’ll address the points you raise…

    • No, I did not say that “all” talkback callers were “white-trash”, only those with negative comments today — those I described as “whining, selfish, ignorant, bitter.” The Crikey article also lists many callers supporting the Apology.
    • I deliberately used the term white trash as both historical allusion and irony. Yes, of course it’s racist. That’s the point.
    • There is no evidence whatsoever to support your claim that 90% of Australians did not want the Apology. Indeed, the opposite is true: The 2000 Nielsen poll showed that the majority of Australians support a treaty with the Aboriginal People, and subsequent polling has been reasonably consistent. Claiming to speak for some supposed “majority” is a corrupt argument technique. Stop it at once.
    • Chris Pearce was not elected by “90% of Australians” of any kind. He received 55.1% of the two-party preferred vote in his electorate. The rest of the voters would have preferred someone else. Still, whatever the margin, he should have had the good manners to shut the fuck up when the Prime Minister was speaking, or piss off out of it.
    • Brendan Nelson did not “simply announce that there would not be a compensation fund”. He deliberately tried to downplay the importance of the Aboriginal claim by saying that other people in history had also suffered in some way. True, perhaps, but it misses the point of the day. Veterans get their go on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, for instance. He also cluttered his speech with an attempt to justify the Howard government’s “intervention”. That party-political tactic had no place today.

    I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to comment, and I thank you. However your facts are wrong, your analysis faulty and your spelling appalling.

  7. I’m probably going to get slated for my post

    Yes, you will.

    I had a decent response typed, but then I thought reacting to a reactionary post in a reactionary way was a bit much 😉 Also, generally quite pointless, as I found the assertions in your post silly (such as the 90% of Australians not supporting the apology — care to provide some credible evidence?)

    As for the Apology, about bloody time.

    I’d love another public holiday — by global standards, Australia is on the low side! However, I am assuming it is not likely, because we must be productive etc etc. Maybe we need a commemorative iced vovo.

    Says she has Aboriginal friends

    … because we all know having minority friends means you’re not prejudiced 🙄

  8. To the various commenters who suggest Feb 13 as the new Australia Day, I’m afraid I agree with Stilgherrian on that one — I think it could be just as divisive as the old one. However, I’m all in favour of having it commemorated annually as the Sorry Day public holiday. We are Australian after all, and who’s going to complain about another holiday?

  9. credible evidence, check the west australian tomorrow, today tonight this evening and acurrent affair, i know not the most credible of source but hey i’m just quote whats on the tele.

  10. @jism: The thing about “evidence” is that you have to look at the source of the information and the methods used to generate it. A poll done by Today Tonight or ACA simply isn’t credible because it’s a self-selected sample, and the program producers have a track record of distorting data for shock-horror tabloid effect.

    This question…

    Stilgherrian, do you believe there is a need for “intervention” in the north west?

    … is a bit like “Have you stopped beating your wife?” It all depends on what you mean by “intervention”.

    If the question is, “Do I think that the health of Aboriginal children in the NW needs serious fixing?” then my answer is yes.

    If the question is, “Do I think that child sexual abuse is a serious problem in the NW?” then the answer is yes, it is. Researchers in the field say it’s a serious problem in most communities, of whatever ethnicity.

    If the question is, “Do I think this constitutes an emergency calling for a radical response?” my answer is a resounding no.

    The Little Children Are Sacred report [PDF file] — and I feel soiled just typing the report’s propaganda-name — was the 19th report which detailed child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities since John Howard became PM. Precisely nothing was done until, oh so conveniently, a report arrives during a federal election campaign.

    The report has 97 recommendations but virtually none of them were followed.

    Instead, a massive 500 pages of law was rushed through parliament, with only 2 days for it to be considered. It involved everything from interference with the right of people completely unconnected with any case or suspected case of abuse to buy a beer, through the compulsory government acquisition of land, to the suspension of protection from racial discrimination and other human rights.

    There are already properly-established organisations for dealing with child sexual abuse, with properly-trained staff. Why not just expand them? And why not do this in conjunction with the communities themselves? Answer: Because it doesn’t fit the strategy of painting JWH as a bold leader responding to an “emergency”, and it doesn’t help win votes from the kind of rednecks who assume that Aboriginal people need to have some Big Strong Whitefellas come and sort them out.

    And then of course we find that in all the rush only 10% of children were checked in a process that probably broke medical ethical rules, and the whole thing only resulted in two referrals to the police.

    That’s not good government. That’s disgusting.

    You ask whether there should be an “intervention” in the NW. I ask whether there should be an intervention in Cottesloe. With the government demanding everyone register to buy a beer at the local surf club, with the tennis club closed down and their buildings sold, and with health workers with no training in child sexual abuse rounding up all the children and poking at their delicate bits.

    See how many votes that wins.

  11. @ Stilgherrian
    “Actually, no, I think 13 February would make an appalling Australia Day. Yes, a massively important historical occasion, but one which is all about one particular people and their place in Australian history. It is not a day which can be about “making the nation”.”

    What, more so than our current national day is all about “one particular people”? We can bang on about multiculturalism and diversity all we want, but what we’re actually commemorating is the landing of the first fleet, ie the arrival of the people who would become the first Anglo-Australians.

    And I guess I don’t see 13 Feb as being all about one people. I see it as symbolic of the healing a rift that caused us to be a nation divided.

    Although really, I’d be perfectly happy if we just skipped the national day altogether and just made Talk Like A Pirate Day a public holiday.

  12. @Sweet Sister Morphine: Narrr!
    Call me Pirate Rosie and slap a parrot on my shoulder.
    Much more to my liking than drinking VB in my boardshorts with an Australian Flag draped around my shoulders

  13. Quatrefoil: Further to your point about Brendan Nelson’s speech being a mix of voices, here’s a snippet from Possum Comitatus in Crikey today:

    Nelson was left delivering a camel of a speech in Parliament, forced by petty internal party politics to say things which he knew would spoil the moment, things he did not believe, things that would likely leave a bitter political legacy for the future. He knew well that it would be “these things” for which Brendan Nelson would always be remembered when those of tomorrow look back to yesterday’s moment in history.

    When the time came to deliver his camel, Brendan Nelson had the look of a man that, as one wit put it, “suddenly realised that he had chosen the wrong party”, and would now be forever burdened as the name behind a speech whose contents were not reflective of Brendan Nelson the person, but simply reflective of the cancerous political dynamics of the Coalition itself.

    The public reaction to his speech was probably not that different to how Nelson himself would have reacted were he not a Member of Parliament and found himself listening to those very words on the lawns of Canberra with thousands of others.

    Leadership seems to be lacking…

  14. “suddenly realised that he had chosen the wrong party” — screamed INAUTHENTICITY.

    A great example of how at the end of the day, you need to be true to who you are. In politics, in business, in our personal lives. A timely reminder indeed.

    I cringed at all the bits that were so: “I will have the last word”, “I will justify everything I have done as being RIGHT” or “good for you” etc.

    And in doing so reveal that he/his party has missed the whole point of the day, that he has really no consideration or empathy for others, other than himself.

    Hmmm, sounds likes someone I used to know. LOL

  15. Oh yeah, and the compensation fund business really reveals his/his party’s attitude of “expecting the worst from others” – especially from the poor and disenfranchised.

    ‘cos we ALL know they are all lazy and morally bankrupt and out to get EVERYTHING they can from us “decent” folks… Lock your doors and board up the windows!

  16. @ Zern:

    Unfortunately, the lazy and morally bankrupt do exist, and they are out for all they can get. They exist in pretty much every strata of society. While generally in the minority, they are frequently the most vocal and they always ruin everything for everyone else. In this particular instance, I’ve no doubt that some of them will go after compensation.

    The hard bit is coming up with a policy that will minimise the damage wrought by these oxygen thieves, while at the same time being fair to the people who are genuine. It’s particularly difficult in a situation as politically sensitive as this one.

    @ Stilgherrian:

    Talk Like A Pirate Day it is then! Arrr!

  17. @ Stilgherrian:

    Well it wouldn’t be a proper public holday if somebody didn’t sullenly refuse to observe it. After all, the beauty of freedom of expression is that even twisted creatures such as yourself can eke out their unfulfilled pirateless half-lives without fear of reprisal or public lynching.

  18. The Apology had to be made – and it was made brilliantly. – and, from what I have seen, it was accepted graciously by those who had suffered injustice.

    Nelson’s response was fairly good too – though it was probably made under the duress of either delivering whatever the overly-influential party “supporters” outside the parliament ordered him to deliver or face a swift trip to the backbenches. I wonder how furious these wealthy puppeteers – too gutless and too inept to stand for election themselves – became when both Nationals and Liberals parliamentarians stood and cheered, apparently spontaneously. At least the churlish bad-manners of Chris Pearce has assured him the support and the dollars of these nasty lords-and-masters at the next election.

    The secondary effects of the Apology are that [a] Brendon Nelson is a completely different Coalition leader to Pig-Iron Bob and to George Bush’s Trans-Pacific Puppydog. [b] The Coalition will henceforth become a real Opposition – working with the government here, opposing the government there; presenting themselves always as a credible alternative government.
    [c] the Coalition parliamentarians are now in a terrific position to assert their right to speak their own mind, to stand up for their own constituents and to be independent of the whims-and-fancies of bludgers hiding in the shadows. [d] John Howard has gone …. [by the way, I wonder how much Howard might have had to do with getting rid of Queensland Liberals’ Senator Neville Bonner, the true gentleman who insisted that every pensioner – regardless of race or religion – be given a decent funeral?]

  19. @Graham Bell: All very well put, sir! What intrigues me is that the Apology process has highlighted the few remaining dinosaurs who’ve either failed to update their worldview to one appropriate for a modern 21st Century democracy, or who rely on such dinosaurs for their support.

  20. Regarding remotely credible sources and the level of support the apology has.

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/pm-said-sorry–and-so-said-more-of-us/2008/02/17/1203190653987.html

    More than two-thirds of Australians support the apology, says a poll taken at the weekend. In total, 68 per cent voiced their approval, up sharply from the 55 per cent who backed the apology two weeks ago.

    The Galaxy Research poll, commissioned by the GetUp political action organisation, also showed that the number who disagreed fell just as sharply – down from 36 per cent to 22 per cent.

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