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Keywords:

  • apology;
  • discourse;
  • Indigenous;
  • political rhetoric;
  • race

While the public debate on whether to apologise to the Stolen Generations ended on 13 February, 2008, public opinion was still divided, reflected particularly in the arguments against apologising that were common in political and public discourse. We examine the ways in which differing arguments can be flexibly deployed and combined within a political context to not just resist, but also to support, an act of reparation for historical injustice. In particular, we consider how Rudd makes use of specific rhetorically self-sufficient arguments to justify offering the apology; precisely the same arguments that had previously been used by political leaders and members of the public to oppose the apology. It is the use of such arguments in combination with each other and additional common tropes drawn from egalitarian and liberal discourse that allow for the building of a rhetorically powerful case for offering the apology. Rather than the traditional focus of such research on the ways in which racism is accomplished in talk, we suggest that Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations can be seen as a practical tool-kit for building an “anti-racist” rhetoric in the context of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Australia.