This week, in local politics, the Government parties have gone all out in their critique of the Labor policies announced last weekend.
But the special brunt of their attack has been on the Deputy Opposition Leader, Ms Julia Gillard.
One key government spokesman, Senator Bill Heffernan, has attacked her as unfit to lead the country, because she is ‘deliberately barren’. Because she has no children, she is somehow unfit for office and cannot relate to the needs of the community.
In fact he made this statement about a year ago, and has taken the opportunity to re-affirm it, in a magazine article.
Then, when an outcry from all sides of politics ensued, he has issued a half-hearted apology, because ‘apparently a lot of people are upset’ with his remarks.
Sometimes, saying ‘sorry’ is simply not enough.
There is a real difference between what Christians call ‘repentance’ and saying sorry.
This fellow doesn’t repent at all.
He has a track record of vicious personal attacks, which suit his political objectives and those of his ‘very, very close friend’ the Prime Minister, John Howard.
Perhaps his most famous attack is upon a High Court judge, who is gay. Senator Heffernan alleged that the Justice has a penchant for small boys, and claimed to have proof of paedophilia. When given opportunity, he has none to produce.
In fact the man suffers from a large number of outdated prejudices, such as that women are mad worthy by having children, and that child abuse is correlated with homosexuality (when in fact the exact opposite is the case).
So the Senator withdraws his comments when forced to do so—after every shock jock in the country has broadcast his attack, and every newspaper has printed it. Few give any prominence to the withdrawal.
The fact is that saying sorry is not enough. When people behave like this, they ought to have to face the consequences of their libel. He should be denounced by his own party, and forced to leave office.
The media, who feed on this kind of thing, ought to know better and should simply refuse to carry his lines.
But all of us need to learn the difference between an empty, convenient, and simply political ‘sorry’, and the genuine repentance which admits wrong and commits itself to learning, to doing better.
From the same city (Sydney) we saw recently a superb example.
A man who, two decades ago, was convicted of heroine use and dealing, and who was convicted for his crimes and spent some time in jail, has now been appointed the director of the Education Department in New South Wales. He describes himself as a man who lost his way, having had every opportunity in life, having come from a good home and attended an expensive private school. He had done well, but then got into drugs.
He did his time in prison, and has since been rehabilitated.
I heard him speak about his life, with deep regret for his failure, but also a genuine sense that now he has been given a second chance, in society, and really wants to serve the community. The Opposition in that state claim he is unworthy to lead the Education system, because of what he did in the past.
I absolutely disagree. Indeed, he is perhaps an ideal person to help us relate more effectively to young people, caught in the absurd pressures of our performance-driven view of education.
He has been there, fell prey to the dangers, has had to admit mistakes and learn from them, and work his way back to self-respect and social acceptance.
Sorry is not enough, but repentance really is. Repentance is hard work. He has done it, and we too have to do the work of accepting him and giving him the opportunity to serve to the best of his ability.
This is, I am sure, the way of God. We all have much to learn from it, beyond ‘sorry’.