It's Never Too Late To Say Sorry


A wise man once said, “It’s better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.” That wise man was Tony Abbott. With that mixture of serene insight and disregard of consequences it’s no wonder he’s now, more or less, prime minister of this country.

In the brief month since he became our first among equals, Abbott has already redefined the parameters of a whole range of policy areas according to this principle. He has determined, for example, that it is better to beg forgiveness for taking money that isn’t yours, than it is to ask permission to take money that isn’t yours. Which is pretty sensible, given that if you ask permission to take money that isn’t yours, you might not get the money at all, and then how are you going to get to the wedding?

That's impressive, but Abbott has taken his greatest strides in foreign policy, which is pretty impressive for a man who just two months ago thought China was a city in the clouds. Full as a goog with the nutritious yolk of self-confidence, he bestrides the globe tossing apologies left and right like Dame Edna hurling gladioli. He has thus poured oil on the troubled waters of our relationships with our northern neighbours, which had been feared irrevocably damaged by Julia Gillard’s utter failure to deeply offend them and then say sorry for it.

You could almost see the people of Asia falling in love with this muscular man-creature: as he performed an “act of contrition” for Malaysians, for accidentally suggesting that you couldn’t swing a cat in their country without hitting someone who was hitting someone else with a cane; as he apologised to Indonesia for inadvertently implying that asylum seekers were none of their damn business; as he expressed his sincere regrets to Papua New Guinea for absent-mindedly telling everyone who would listen that they really were not to be trusted with anything important.

It was a touching display of artful diplomacy and cunning compassion, our prime minister showing our regional brethren that he has a heart every bit as big as his quadriceps.

We have clearly done well to elect a PM who can seamlessly weave daring with caring so well. And it’s all based on a theory so simple it’s genius: it really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you say sorry afterwards. Having seen this theory put into practice to such marvellous effect in the past by some of our most distinguished pre-schoolers, it’s exciting to see it being used in the upper echelons of political power.

Even more exciting is that Abbott has finally given the nation a sign: this is his government's direction for the next three years. It won't stop with foreign policy. If an apology can clear up the consequences of threatening to invade Vanuatu, it can do wonders on all sorts of fronts.

Take the budget, for example. The biggest dilemma that Joe Hockey will face as Treasurer will be how to maintain a responsible budget position while at the same time hiding the fact that he doesn’t actually know what a “budget” is. But under the Abbott Doctrine, he has nothing to worry about. Every time he accidentally halves Defence spending or allows Japan to buy the RBA, he will be able to make a sincere public apology, thus smoothing away the rough edges of the coffee table of voter anger, with the plane of contrition.

Or take climate policy. The Coalition’s direct action policy aims to reduce emissions, of course, but should by some freak chance this not happen, Greg Hunt can always say he’s sorry. And in the long run, whoever is in charge of the party if and when catastrophic climate change destroys our way of life, can offer a heartfelt apology to us all. It makes the future a lot more palatable, knowing we’ll have the chance to shake hands and agree to put it all behind us eventually.

It really exposes the paucity of strategic smarts on the Labor side of the divide, that this approach occurred to them. Imagine if Gillard had simply apologised for being a vicious lying communist, instead of viciously lying about it. Imagine if Kevin Rudd had apologised to Gillard for destroying her career, and then apologised to the country for Julia, and then apologised to Abbott for punching him in the stomach?

You see what I did there? The possibilities bloom like a flower, don’t they? The election could’ve gone a completely different way if Rudd or one of his trusted confidantes had been willing to punch Abbott just once. Labor’s big mistake was in not going for broke: why introduce a modest carbon tax when you can slap on a charge of $200 a tonne and then just tell everyone you’re sorry? Why introduce a mining tax that raises no money when you can simply rob all miners at gunpoint before apologising? Why legislate for a National Disability Insurance Scheme when you can just stampede a herd of cattle through Malcolm Turnbull’s house? Their failure of nerve makes me sick: I’m so glad they lost.

But Abbott didn’t lose: he won, and whether it’s the world stage or the domestic cellar, you can be sure that our new government will be committed day and night to carrying out their duties in a manner befitting our elected representatives. And then telling us how very, very sorry they are for doing that.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.