By Darren Stones
The Australian Parliament said “Sorry” to Australia’s indigenous people on Wednesday 13th February, 2008.
The apology, delivered by Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, at Parliament House in Canberra, was directed towards Australia’s indigenous Stolen Generations.
Rudd’s speech was well received and it’s instilled a new sense of direction for all Australians. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally happened.
A cloud has been lifted due to Rudd’s willingness to “close the gap”. The gap he refers to is; the difference in life expectancy and opportunity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Federal Opposition Leader, Dr Brendan Nelson spoke and was subsequently criticised for part of the content of his speech. Many people were appalled by his words and they turned their back on him as he continued to deliver his speech.
Nelson said there shouldn’t be a compensation package, but that is a key issue Professor Mick Dodson, Director of Aboriginal Studies at the Australian National University, is intending to pursue in due course.
Nelson was in a difficult situation due to the Coalitions’ stance up until recent times, but Rudd was willing to lead him through the process.
It’s questionable whether Nelson’s words were offensive, as it seems there’s a hangover from the Howard years. It could be assumed that indigenous Australians were ready and willing to direct a protest towards the Federal Liberal Party. Fair enough – the Liberals had 10 years to say “Sorry”, but it all seemed too difficult for them.
Former Australian Prime Ministers, Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, attended the announcement. But, there was only one living Australian Prime Minister absent – John Howard.
Howard was Australia’s prime minister for 11 years, and he led the coalition to a crushing defeat in the November ’07 Federal Election. Is Howard still hurting from losing his long-held seat of Bennelong to Maxine McKew?
Howard has rarely been seen in the public eye since being defeated. On the day that Rudd said “Sorry”, Howard was photographed whilst taking his morning stroll. It was a day that Howard should have been standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Rudd.
Maybe time will heal Howard, maybe not. Rudd’s fired the starting gun and the vast majority of Australians are willing to join the race. Maybe Howard will get caught in the slipstream, maybe not. It’s up to Howard to move forward. Australia is looking for John Howard to step forward and show leadership.