Five years ago I was living, breathing, everything - the National Apology. I was working in Jenny Macklin's office and Labor had just come to power with the intention of delivering the Apology as its first item of business.
I was particularly concerned about researching what the Apology speech needed to say, as so many Apology speeches around the world had fallen flat.
Members of the Stolen Generations in particular were extremely helpful in getting the messages right. But it wasn't easy, for me or for them - not just on a logistical level, but a moral and emotional one too. They expected the Apology to come with a reparations package including compensation but Rudd had ruled that out. And at the same time, mouthpieces from the hard right were throwing little hand-grenades at the idea of the Apology - stoking fear and suspician in the Australian public. In some ways it was lucky that there was only a very short gestation period before it was done. Then it was done so beautifully and with such purity of heart that noone could deny it.
Although it was a very testing and emotional time, I forged relationships with members of the Stolen Generations that ran so deep. Some of those people I am still friends with today, and others, who drifted away over the years ahead as other divisions in politics took hold, I still think about. I will never forget the stories they shared with me, not one single moment of them.
Probably the most powerful moment for me was introducing Kevin Rudd to Nanna Fejo, a Stolen Generations' member from the NT, at her family's house in Canberra the Saturday morning before the Apology. Kevin wanted to hear her story in person so he could pen the speech from the heart. And he did, that afternoon. He obviously referred to the feedback from the consultations, especially the request that the word "sorry" be used... if possible, more than once. He said Sorry three times that day.
Five years on, and the Lower House was discussing constitutional recognition. I penned this piece for Crikey yesterday after watching Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott speak.
For more info on the RECOGNISE campaign, head here.
Senator Chris Evans, also Leader of the Senate, and Minister for Tertiary Education, announced today that he was moving on from politics. I worked for Chris between August 2005 and December 2006 when he held the shadow portfolio of Indigenous Affairs (he moved to resources after Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard took the leadership). It is sad that Parliament is losing such a considered person, but I know politics can pollute one's family life... and to a degree, even one's sense of self.
Chris hired me after I replied to an ad in the newspaper for Indigenous Affairs adviser. I still to this day remember the interview vividly. He had this way of making you unsure of what he truly thought, and a fantastic dry wit. I later heard he hired me because he thought my extreme idealism would balance out his conservative tendencies - but I always knew (or perhaps just clung to the belief) that deep down he held many of the same leftie ideals as me. In those early days, when I entered the halls of Parliament as a complete novice, he taught me about pragmatism and always taking a considered approach - not rushing into things. He showed me how to cut through emotive hyperbolism with sincere and sensible appeals to people's better natures. He reminded me that politics was the art of what is possible. But he also inspired me to think about the big picture, to think afresh and not get bogged down into old boxes of thinking.
As time progressed and the crashing loud waves of politics and government eroded the perfection of my ideals - and left me with a more complicated world view, I often thought about the journey I would have never gone on without him giving me a chance. There weren't many advisers in Parliament that had come in without party connections, without an illustrious private school education. I never even felt comfortable walking into a shop to buy a suit. But I cared deeply about the area (and still do), and that was just as important to him. I think that was a measure of depth and character that is not always obvious in our parliamentary leaders. The team he built around him over many years (he spent 20 years in Parliament) included amazing staff who had been there almost the whole time. I wish him the best.
I argued on Crikey that the campaign to recognise Australia's First Peoples in our Constitution needs a major injection of energy and creative thinking from campaigners. They risk getting caught in a reactive stance (letting the politicians lead) rather than daring to light a vision amongst the Australian people. See my full opinion here.
Well finally I have found the time to get this page up and running. I thought it was important to present a unified image of my different identities in politics and in dance... be out and proud of my well-rounded life! From time to time, I may publish some brief comments on social and political issues. Please feel free to make comments, including ones that respectfully disagree in opinion. I reserve the right to remove any malicious comments.
Thanks very much for your interest. Rita
IS YOUR ORGANISATION LOOKING FOR ADVOCACY SUPPORT?
Rita worked in federal politics for five years with a Labor Minister Jenny Macklin and previously in Opposition (with Jenny Macklin MP and Senator Chris Evans).