February 24, 2010 | Graham

The art of the apology

The news carried footage of PM Kevin Rudd taking notes of the complaints of a group of insulation installers and then later promising $41M to partly compensate them for problems caused by the chaotic administration of the home insulation scheme.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accused the Prime Minister of not being much of a Queenslander, but borrowing from the style manual of the former premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie.

Beattie became infamous in Queensland for his three-step approach to problems that would have killed a lesser politician. First he would apologise for having caused the problem, second he would say that he would fix the problem, and third, and most critically, proclaim that in fact he was the only one who could fix it. Voters bought the line, even after they’d learnt to recite the mantra.

So he survived the Shepherdson Inquiry not just bythe skin of his teeth with a resounding majority despite the problems that it uncovered being entirely due to the Labor Party. It ended-up giving him a formidable weapon which propelled him to a record majority.

Criticising Rudd for being like Beattie is insulting to Beattie.

I’ve  been waiting for the press corps and the opposition to zero in on the real problem for the government – its failure to show any real feeling for the people who have lost life or property because of government bungling.

Beattie famously swam with sharks as a publicity stunt. What we saw on TV tonight was prim and tight-lipped compared to what Beattie would have done. One suspects it only occurred because the small demonstration would have attracted further bad media if the PM hadn’t attended.

By now, the man who swam with sharks would have been out to the families of the four contractors who lost their lives, and visited a large proportion of the people who had lost their houses to fire.  He would have apologised immediately rather than stone-walling, and exuded sympathy that you could believe in.

Australians expect empathy from their leaders.

Not long ago a Governor General lost his job, not for anything he did in that job, but because in his previous job as Archbishop of Brisbane he was judged to have failed to show enough compassion towards the victims of pedophilia in a church school in his archdiocese.

The school was much less under his control than the Environment Department should have been under Garrett’s. There was no evidence that when confronted with the facts that the church or the archbishop failed to act promptly, unlike the minister and his department.

Pedophilia is a dreadful crime, but a death, while accidental, is worse for the victim and their family.

Garrett failed to exercise proper oversight of his department, but public servants can be hard to control, so he has excuses. He has also failed to personally exercise proper care and consideration for the people damaged by his department. He has no excuse that.

It is apparently much easier to show sympathy to abstract stolen generations when you bear no responsibility than it is to those for whose hurt you share corporate and personal responsibility.

Posted by Graham at 11:50 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Australian Politics Tags: , ,


  1. Interesting analysis. So will Garrett and/or Rudd survive and for how long?

    Comment by Jennifer Marohasy — February 25, 2010 @ 12:42 am

  2. As long as the electors want them. Would be interesting to go back and look at how many ministers Howard sacked and why. I think it was 5 before he decided toughing it out was the way to go, but Labor was very critical of him for not sacking people over the AWB fiasco, for example.

    Probity is a great thing when you don’t have any power, it seems, but not when you do. But I knew that.

    Comment by Graham — February 25, 2010 @ 1:56 am

  3. Spoken like a true Liberal, Graham.

    Comment by Chris Grealy — February 25, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  4. I have to say I’m impressed by this new compassion for the workers,however,industrial deaths are often due to negligence by employers,not the government of the day.
    When will former menbers of the Howard government be apologising for the treatment of refugees?

    Comment by Russell W — February 25, 2010 @ 10:40 pm

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