Too late now to say sorry

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OPINION | OURS & YOURS - AN­NIKA SMETHURST

ONE sign of be­com­ing an adult is ac­knowl­edg­ing your mis­takes and say­ing sorry. Not be­cause some­one asked you to, but be­cause you recog­nised your be­hav­iour was hurt­ful. It shows for­ti­tude. So why can’t politi­cians say sorry?

Michaelia Cash is not alone in her pig-stub­born re­fusal to apol­o­gise for threat­en­ing to name women in Bill Shorten’s of­fice who she said had been the sub­ject of “ru­mours”.

Cash, who wouldn’t ut­ter the s-word, said only: “If any­one has been of­fended, I with­draw.” Sources say Cash also used “back chan­nels” to con­tact Shorten’s of­fice and ex­plain her ac­tions. But Cash and her col­leagues fail to grasp that vot­ers need to hear those words “I am sorry” be­fore they are will­ing to for­give. And not all apolo­gies are equal.

La­bor’s Kim Carr joined Cash in the race for the most qual­i­fied apol­ogy of the week. The La­bor se­na­tor sug­gested Lib­eral James Paterson would have been part of the Hitler Youth move­ment dur­ing a rowdy com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Carr also gave a qual­i­fied apol­ogy for say­ing Pat­ter­son looked like a Hitler Youth mem­ber.

“If you took of­fence, I with­draw it,” Carr said. The La­bor se­na­tor later apol­o­gised by proxy, but only af­ter he was crit­i­cised in the me­dia.

Just like Greens MP Adam Bandt, who be­lat­edly and half­heart­edly apol­o­gised to Lib­eral Se­na­tor Jim Molan for call­ing him a war crim­i­nal. He even promised to make a do­na­tion to a vet­er­ans’ or­gan­i­sa­tion as an ex­pres­sion of his “sin­cer­ity over this is­sue”. How sin­cere.

Politi­cians thrive in an en­vi­ron­ment where both sides claim to have a mo­nop­oly on be­ing right. They for­get that an apol­ogy can be a sign of em­pa­thy and re­spect and worry about ex­pos­ing their flaws. Only when all op­tions are ex­hausted do they cave.

At Par­lia­ment House there are a hand­ful of places to get coffee — some bet­ter than oth­ers. Each morn­ing pol­lies, staffers, jour­nal­ists and lob­by­ists jos­tle to­wards the front of the queue to place their or­der be­fore their next meet­ing. Some­times a way­ward el­bow lands in some­one’s side or there is con­fu­sion about who is next in line. “Sorry”, you hear, re­gard­less of who is at fault.

We all of­fer up those triv­ial lit­tle ad­mis­sions of wrong­do­ing each day, but sin­cere apolo­gies for gen­uine mis­deeds will al­ways be rare in Can­berra.

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