I’m so excited about going home to a Howardless Australia. And I might even get to check out Maxine on the local news.
And after all the months of caution, control and campaign courtesy, she is finally ready to say what she really thinks about the former prime minister.
“Mr Howard has always presented himself as a courteous man, a civil man, a man with a great sense of history,” she says.
“But I’d have to say what struck me and what struck a lot of people in Bennelong and elsewhere … was a sense that Mr Howard presided over a government where there was diminished respect for our institutions.
“Be it the rule of law, the separation of powers, or the importance of institutions such as the universities, or the ABC and the CSIRO. And I think there is a message there.”
After months of intensive canvassing around the streets of her new domain, McKew also feels bold enough to proclaim a further, deeper mood shift in the populace – towards a national apology.
“I see this as a victory, importantly, for Bennelong’s people. I mean, consider the name of the seat.
“It turns out that Bennelong, one of the first Australians, who had a very interesting relationship with Governor Phillip, is buried in an unmarked grave in Kissing Point in Putney, right in the middle of the electorate of Bennelong.
“I think we’re on the threshold of something fine in this country. Jenny Macklin this week has talked about the importance of saying sorry to the first Australians. And I know that the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is very conscious that this be done in a very special way. It marks, I guess, a new generosity in the way we engage with the first Australians, and I would like to think that Labor’s win in Bennelong connects with that generous spirit in some way.”
McKew is not overly concerned with the questions of formal legal liability that have for so long attached themselves to the prospect of a formal apology to Aboriginal Australia.
“[In] most state governments, where the apology has been made in state assemblies, this has not been the case at all, so I think we have to look beyond all that, and be big about
this. It is high time now that the Commonwealth of Australia, in our federal parliament, that our parliamentarians take this step, and let’s hope that it is a bipartisan exercise. That’s my hope. It really is.”