Brendan Nelson’s career as Leader of the Opposition looks to be over before he has even faced the Rudd government in Parliament, thanks to his equivocation over the issue of an apology to the Stolen Generation. If Nelson was fair dinkum about supporting an apology, given the appropriate words, he could have made a positive virtue of it, saying something like “This apology needs to come from the Parliament, not just the government. I’m willing to work with Mr Rudd in preparing a statement that will have unanimous support”.
As it is, he will end up being forced through every possible position from outright opposition to conditional support to the final stage when he’ll be forced to deal with the hardline rejectionists in his own ranks.
A unanimous vote of Parliament is essential here. If Nelson fails to take firm action (expulsion and withdrawal of endorsement) against any Liberal who crosses the floor, his failure as a leader will be complete.
Nelson’s problem is that denouncing the Stolen Generation is a cause celebre for the hardliners who gave him for the job and for the culture war dinosaurs (Quadrant, the Bennelong Group and so on) who cheered them on for years. In this sector of their parallel universe, the treatment of Aboriginal Australians was a successful exercise in Christian philanthropy until leftist do-gooders took over in the 1960s. They won’t let Nelson, who is basically a decent person, do the right thing, at least not without a fight.
It’s a pity. Most people are ready to move beyond ideological pointscoring and embrace any policy option that will actually deliver improved living standards and reconciliation. If we are going to move forward, we need to acknowledge how badly our country has failed in the past, and an apology is an essential element of this process.