It’s in all the crisis management handbooks – the first thing you do in a crisis where you’re to blame is apologise and accept fault. It works so well that politicians like Peter Beattie managed to turn saying sorry into an election winning tool.
So of course Kevin Rudd is going to apologise for the Pink Batts fiasco and the deaths of three young tradesmen, but does he mean it?
The signs aren’t good. The complaint of two of the parents interviewed on 7.30 last night was that he had apologised personally to them, and that when he had met them he couldn’t even remember their names.
Yet when Rudd made his “apology” there was no indication that he had remedied either of those points, and you can be sure that if he had rung the parents, or made an appointment to see them, he would have mentioned it.
But worse, and contra the handbooks, Rudd tried to shift the blame to the contracting companies.
The indications are that the real person he is sorry for is himself.
There are also shades of the Beattie techniques in Rudd’s wholesale “intervention” into NSW Labor. Putting aside the fact he doesn’t have the power to intervene, it reminds me of Beattie’s successful tactic with the Shepherdson Inquiry which revealed rorting in the Queensland ALP.
Beattie not only took total responsibility for the problem on himself, but declared he had to be re-elected because he was the only one capable of fixing the problem. The result was that he turned his minority government into one with a huge majority after the next election.
Of course nothing was fixed, and a few short years later we saw Queensland cabinet minister Gordon Nuttall jailed for corruption.
We can expect a lot more sorries from Kevin. The government he leads has a record of incompetence, and when you analyse its headline policy achievements, with the exception of Gonski, they are all policies that started under his first prime ministership.
The question is, will people believe him.
Sorry is a double-edged sword. While a well-executed and genuine one can propel a public figure to even greater heights, a poor one can drive them from office.
Former governor-general Peter Hollingworth never really mastered the art of sorry and ultimately lost his job for not being empathetic enough.
All the signs are that empathy is in short supply in the Rudd office as well.