Why is ‘sorry’ such a hard word to say?
Five letters, and yet our politicians – irrespective of their party affiliation – struggle with it, at every turn.
God knows, they have plenty to be sorry about. But they just can’t, almost unanimously, bring themselves to say it.
History has seen some exceptions, and Australia’s most frequent apologies came from a former premier Peter Beattie, who ran Queensland for years up until 2007, before later moving to Sydney to become Australian Rugby League Commissioner.
He perfected the ‘mea culpa’, and many times he ducked political strife by looking down a television lens, apologising, and saying it wouldn’t happen again.
It was refreshing, for years, until voters saw it as a means of escaping liability for bad decision-making.
But if only we could have a dose of it back.
Imagine if Prime Minister Scott Morrison genuinely apologised for the shambles that we are calling a vaccine rollout.
Imagine if he took responsibility for it, told us he’d picked the wrong horse, and explained how – working together – we could get this right.
Or imagine if he revealed that the enormous pressure he’s under – quarantine, tiredness, fear of the unknown – was behind his outburst on AstraZeneca, and he’d ‘misspoke’.
Imagine if he dropped the stubbornness that is preventing him accepting an offer to open a quarantine facility near Toowoomba.
Surely, Liberal or Labor or some other shade of politics, we’d give him credit, and believe he had the vaccine rollout, not his own political motives, at heart.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, too, would have more credibility if earlier this week she’d been more upfront about her late lockdown decision.
Up until then, her steady leadership of all things COVID had earned her applause – even across party lines in some instances – but that has been bruised by a late defiance.
Could she have acted earlier? Maybe. Maybe not. But we know it almost seems a weakness for her to admit she might have got it wrong.
And a simple ‘sorry’ would entrench that notion.
It’s not one side of politics that is immune from understanding the electoral value of an apology, either.
Queenslanders gave Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk another term late last year for a single reason; they believed she was keeping them safe.
In return, they accepted early lockdowns. And obeyed, almost to the person, the tough restrictions brought in north of the NSW-Queensland border.
Until this week, when highways out of Brisbane were jammed packed with those escaping to the beaches, which filled with bronze bodies early on the first day of lockdown. The goodwill has evaporated.
An apology has certainly not made it into any of Ms Palaszczuk’s speaking notes this week.
Instead she’s blamed Mr Morrison for the vaccine rollout, accused him of wanting to set up under-40 AstraZeneca hubs, and pointed the finger at a teenage receptionist for the predicament the state found itself in.
She was immune from criticism. So was her health minister. It was a blame game, where you lose the upper hand with any hint of an apology for getting it wrong.
Perhaps the best advice in a tit for tat between parties and states came from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who advised voters to simply take their medical advice on which vaccine they chose from their GP, not their member of parliament.
It shouldn’t – but it sounded almost genius, among the state and federal scaremongering elsewhere.