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.
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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).