THE prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, has apologised to 500,000 Australians who grew up in institutions, orphanages and foster care in the last century.
He has also said sorry to the 7000-odd children who were brought over to this country from Britain in the early part of last century, in the mistaken belief that their parents had died.
Many of the children were horrifically abused in a number of institutions.
The opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, made it a bipartisan affair. And there is news that the British prime minister Gordon Brown will be adding his voice to the chorus as well sometime early next year, apologising to the child migrants.
No doubt it is a morally uplifting moment for many, a time when people will keep quiet about the obvious – that the flood of apologies comes at a time when all three politicians could well do with a bit of softening of the old image.
Rudd has been trying to sort out the problem created by a group of Tamil asylum-seekers who were picked up by an Australian Customs vessel in Indonesian waters and then refused to get off the boat unless they were brought to Australia.
In the course of trying to tackle this mess, Rudd has often had to make statements that have led to others in his own Labor Party rebuking him; Labor has a somewhat more humane police towards immigrants than does the Liberal/National coalition.
The apology makes Rudd look a bit more human.
Turnbull must be welcoming the chance to say sorry even more. The man has had to resort to the base immigration politics practised by his predecessor, Honest John Howard, to try and get some traction in the opinion polls.
Gordon Brown will be the happiest of the lot; he is staring at possible electoral defeat when the polls next come around so any chance to look a bit better will be more than welcome.
The Australian parliament’s upper house, the Senate, unanimously recommended in inquiries held in 2001, 2004 and again this year that a formal apology be made.
As to why it has been done in the last session of parliamentary sittings for 2009 and at a time when both Rudd and Turnbull are sorely in need of looking human is unknown.