Referendums don’t bring out the best in the Australian political system. But that shouldn’t stop us from picking our way through the minefield.
On the first day of parliament in 2008, newly minted prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered federal parliament’s Apology to the stolen generations. This had been Labor Party policy at the previous three elections, but hadn’t been given a particularly high profile during the campaigns.
Prime minister John Howard had always opposed the idea, and being a “conviction politician” he was never going to change his mind. Alone among living former prime ministers, he was not in Canberra on 12 February.
The Apology gave comfort to many Indigenous Australians and, in the wider community, provoked (mostly via the airwaves) an extraordinary and largely positive reaction. It was perhaps the only example of Rudd doing something that seemed less-than-popular, but which most Australians subsequently decided was for the best. They then gave the prime minister points for making them eat their greens: a textbook example of political leadership…
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