josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Rudd; Sorry; Political Speeches’

THREE YEARS AFTER ‘SORRY’: HOLLOW BE THY NAME

In Australian Politics on February 21, 2011 at 1:08 am

I wrote the following piece for The Drum, however events in Egypt took over and happened to coincide with the third anniversary of Rudd’s ridiculous speech, so it wasn’t published. Nonetheless, here is the piece as it was written.

THREE YEARS AFTER ‘SORRY’: HOLLOW BE THY NAME

One would be ill-advised to make a comparison between the oratorical skills of former prime minister Kevin Rudd and U.S. president Barack Obama – there’s no competition – but I’m going to anyway. Obama can whip his audience – even Republics – into a frenzy. Rudd’s public speeches during his prime ministership were as boring as the man himself. But the two do share a common trait. Both leave their audiences asking, “Where’s the substance? Where’s the gravitas?”

On the home front, one could never refer to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech as orgasm-inducing. His public speeches during his prime ministership were as boring as the man himself. With one exception.

It’s been three years since Kevin Rudd rose in parliament as prime minister and said sorry to the Stolen Generations for the atrocious behaviour inflicted upon them by white Australians. I was proud to call myself Australian that day as I emailed copies of the speech to friends and colleagues around the world.

Although Rudd lacks all of Obama’s natural flair for public speaking – having mastered the ability to chop, dice and splice our language in a way that leaves it unrecognisable as English – the ‘sorry’ speech, by comparison, was beautifully written and passionately delivered.

Like many white Australians of European decent (I can trace my ancestry to an office who arrived with the First Fleet) I stopped work to watch Kevin Rudd’s apology to “Australia’s Indigenous people – the oldest continuous cultures in human history”. Like many, I felt a wave of emotion come over me as Rudd said, “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families and communities, we say sorry.”

Three years later, that speech continues to evoke an emotional response in me, only today it is a far different emotion to the one I experienced three years ago. Now, joy has been replaced with anger. I’m angry at the state of Aboriginal communities. I’m angry at the state of Aboriginal health. I’m angry at the continued racism towards Aboriginals which I witness with disturbing frequency. Most of all, I am angry that I was deceived by Kevin Rudd.

After twelve years of failure on Aboriginal reconciliation by John Howard, the change of government in 2007 brought hope for a genuine dialogue. Rudd’s speech offered the promise of a new way forward. Unfortunately, three years later, hope has diminished, there is no dialogue and the way forward has changed little from the Howard years.

I’ve little doubt Rudd’s speech will become part of Australian mythology. It will probably be taught in high school history classes. Young, white Australian students will be taught that their ancestors really did care about Aborigines. The truth is, lamentably, the opposite. One speech does not stop the turning of a blind eye to human rights abuses in this country.

Aboriginal activist and academic, Gary Foley – one of the founders of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra – said in an interview at the time of Rudd’s speech:

“I think it should be taught in Political Science classes an an example of the duplicity and deceit of politicians. And it should be taught in psychology classes in terms of how a nation appeases itself of its guilt. And it should be taught in drama school as a classic example of Australian political comedy. And it should be taught in driving schools as a magnificent example of defensive driving and evasive tactics and maneuvers. It should also be taught in kindergarten as a fairy tale.”

In the lead-up to Rudd delivering his ‘apology’, it was assumed by Australians, and reported by the mainstream media, that the speech was an apology to all Aboriginals for past mistreatment. In fact, the speech was an apology to the Stolen Generations only. I don’t begrudge the Stolen Generations their apology, but the litany of misdeeds inflicted on Aboriginals extends well beyond one sub-group.

Rudd’s speech continues to be devoid of all meaning if we are not prepared to accompany the rhetoric with something far more meaningful: compensation for ALL Aborigines; for the abuse, for the taking of lands, for the deception. Without it, Rudd’s speech was little more an a farcical exercise.

Gary Foley recently told me, “The only ones who still think it was genuine and worthwhile are moronic ALP apologists and mindless do-gooders.”

Like Foley, I believe history will judge Rudd’s speech as a triumph of spin and public image over the delivery of substantial and important public policy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. After almost a thousand days of bumbling incompetence that was the Rudd government, we can now either assign the ‘sorry’ speech to the long list of Rudd’s mistakes, or, history can judge it as one of the few decent and worthwhile acts of an otherwise bad prime minister. It will never be the latter until concerted efforts are made towards compensation, reconciliation and an honest appraisal of white Australia’s past and ongoing mistreatment of Aboriginals. Until that day, I choose not to celebrate those hollow and inconsequential words spoken three years ago.