There’s been a bit of “Not today. Don’t anyone critique him today. Today is the day the PM is above critique.”
The day we suspend critique is the day we confer absolute power.
I didn’t go into this election planning to be a Rudd yes-woman, and I’m not going to start now, not even for a day. The Opposition certainly isn’t going to do anything useful in terms of critique; it is down to citizens. If all you’d like to do today is bask in the moment, best not to read on.
So, the explanation for my macro:
He had me at “Sorry”. (Not that I’m one of the important people to “have”; that’s Nelson’s misperception.) I think he should have stopped there. The first half of the apology is wonderful. The vast majority of his accompanying address is heart-rending, disturbing, insightful, moving, and to the point; it should be in every high school class before the day is out. The Closing The Gap plans – health, education, housing – should be good ones, by the sounds of things. We are making some steps in the right direction, but we’re nowhere near there, and there are troubling signs.
Rudd may not have spoiled the moment, but he blemished it with the “Sorry, but…” of “mutual responsibility”.
“Mutual responsibility” ((Clarifying note: Centrelink currently uses the term “Mutual Obligation” as an official term for the concept. I don’t think Rudd could have got away with using “obligation” for that reason, but he is (thus far) getting away with “mutual responsibility”, which is synonymous. ~lauredhel)) may have been a perfectly cromulent phrase in the distant past, but it has been irretrievably blighted by its use to justify Howard’s paternalistic and punitive approach to Indigenous affairs. Rudd’s a smart man, a keen student of history. I can’t in good faith postulate that he doesn’t understand this.
“Mutual responsibility” means “We whitefellas set the rules, you follow them and we’ll get along, ok?” “Mutual responsibility” is the opposite of self-determination. “Mutual responsibility” is Rudd laying down the law that the Indigenous rights process will go only _this_ far. He is opening the door just an inch, and jamming it there. He is saying “Well, we’ve said Sorry, now it’s time for you to pull your socks up too” – all in the same breath.
“Mutual responsibility” says “You’re colluding in your own oppression”. “Mutual responsibility” says “You owe us, too”.
This all fits in with Rudd’s previously stated Indigenous policy direction. We know that Rudd wants to expand punitive, paternalistic welfare systems. We know he isn’t going down an indigenous self-determination path. He made that absolutely clear in his address, when he talked about being a “fully united people”, and about the parliament setting a “destination for the nation… a centralised organising principle”. He speaks of individual human rights, of one nation, and of moving forward united, while avoiding any mention at all of Indigenous rights as peoples, as nations. He makes it very clear that Parliament won’t be relaxing its strangehold of power over Indigenous lands and peoples any time soon. Is this merely a kinder, gentler assimilationism for the twenty-first century?
I think we’re falling into a new set of wranglings over Indigenous affairs. I see Rudd pushing toward a post-apology benevolent paternalism imbued with the rhetoric of national unity and individual rights and responsibilities. Not toward respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as collectives, not toward self-determination, not toward reparations. Not toward a real implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That remains the no-go zone for this government.
I’m elated that the official denial about the Stolen Generations is finally over. The apology part was superb and sincere. A national exhalation was almost audible. I can be excited and thrilled and hopeful and disappointed, all at the same time. He had us at “Sorry”. I wish he had stopped there, for today.