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13.2.08

The Ridiculousness of the Coalition

My mind boggles at the ridiculousness of the Coalition in Australia. The new Labor government has now apologized to the Aborigines, in particular the Stolen Generations. While I can't see into Kevin Rudd's heart, the apology's text certainly has the form of a genuine apology that recognizes and repudiates the real wrong that's being apologized for. We'll have to see how things work out -- it's disturbing that Labor has been so fixed against any sort of material compensation, but the symbolism of the apology's words appears to have been well-recieved by the apologize-ees.

The Coalition, on the other hand ... their leader, Brendan Nelson, offered his own speech that for some reason was also labeled an "apology." Nelson used his time, not to recognize the wrongness of the policies behind the Stolen Generations, but to defend them. He referred repeatedly to the good intentions of the generation stealers, and blamed the harms on unintended consequences (i.e., he's sorry that the generation-stealing was not successful). Where Rudd's words were a small step toward healing the wounds, Nelson's were a small step toward finishing the job.

Then on top of that, Tony Abbott claimed that John Howard -- whose administration ended with a disgraceful set of coercive, victim-blaming, and overtly colonialist interventions in Aboriginal communities, and who pointedly refused to even show up to the apology ceremony -- was the the best Prime Minister for Aborigines Australia's ever had. I understand that it's the shadow cabinet's job to promote their party as better than the current government. But there are some times you need to keep your mouth shut, because the arguments you could make for your party's superiority on some count are so transparently laughable that the blow to your dignity of making them isn't worth it.

Given the kind of self-parody that Nelson, Abbott, and Howard have engaged in on this issue, it was rather surreal to hear Rudd proclaim that progress on improving race relations in Australia would just require Parliament to "move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics." That might work if the Coalition leader was Barack Obama, but in reality he's going to have to deal with a group of lawmakers who have a sincerely insane viewpoint about Australia's indigenous people.

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