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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 10703

Senator CROSSIN —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation. Is the minister aware of the Prime Minister's speech to Nelson Mandela in South Africa on 15 November? Is it not the case that the Prime Minister in his speech celebrated the moral leadership, moral depth, compassion and capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation that Mandela has given to the world as an example? Will the Prime Minister now exercise the same qualities he recognises in the former President of South Africa and sincerely apologise on behalf of the Australian government to the stolen generation in an act of true moral leadership, moral depth, compassion and reconciliation? Is this not exactly what Nelson Mandela was suggesting to the Prime Minister, or is John Howard too stubborn to act on Mandela's example to lead an effective reconciliation process?

Senator HERRON (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —I thank Senator Crossin for the question. Senator Crossin would also recognise that Nelson Mandela described Mr Howard as a great man. Nelson Mandela recognised him.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are far too many people shouting and interrupting.

Senator HERRON (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —The Prime Minister awarded Nelson Mandela a Companion of Australia. There is no question that all of us hold Nelson Mandela in very high regard as a leader in the world.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Senator Forshaw and Senator George Campbell, I have just called the Senate to order.

Senator HERRON —I refute the suggestion that the Prime Minister has not shown leadership in this regard. It was the Prime Minister who moved a joint—from both sides—motion of reconciliation on 26 August. It was carried in both houses. We now have Senator Crossin trying to politicise reconciliation. If there is one thing I am against, it is politicising reconciliation. As I have said on previous occasions, once you get into this category of starting point scoring about reconciliation, you drag us all down. Reconciliation is in the hearts and minds of all of us. We either have it or we haven't. If we have not got it, we start politicising it. We start trying to point score. We start trying to drag it down into the gutter. We get to gutter politics. That is what Senator Crossin is doing with this. She has to recognise that reconciliation is something that should be done by each and every one of us. Once she starts politicising, as she is trying to do today, she denigrates it. She does us all harm. I am not going to reply in a politicised manner in relation to this question.

The Prime Minister has taken a leadership role and we as a government have taken a leadership role with regard to the Council of Reconciliation. The Council of Reconciliation has produced a draft document which is going out to all Australians to reply to. They will report back in May next year as a result of their consultations. I expect that that will be acted on in a spirit of reconciliation by all members of parliament.

Senator George Campbell —Where were you all? You are a bunch of hypocrites.

The PRESIDENT —Senator George Campbell, withdraw that.

Senator George Campbell —I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT —I invite senators to read and think about the standing orders and to think about their behaviour.

Senator CROSSIN —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Besides the fact that great men are often good leaders and lead effectively, does the minister agree that the Prime Minister was absolutely wrong in his long history of personally criticising the use of economic and sporting sanctions against the former apartheid regime in South Africa? That is another trait he blindly shared with Margaret Thatcher. Why can't Australia's own backward looking man consider his own past and admit that he was wrong if he is such a great leader? Why could he not say sorry to Nelson Mandela for his own part in opposing sanctions against the apartheid regime?

Senator HERRON (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —John Howard will be shown to be one of the greatest Prime Ministers of this country. When you consider the present Prime Minister against the likes of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, the man who nearly destroyed the country in two years—your previous leader, who now appears to be a Labor icon—John Howard will be regarded by history as the greatest leader of this country since Sir Robert Menzies.