The simmering feud between NRL boss David Gallop and Manly fullback Brett Stewart shows no signs of relenting, with both parties shunning the very thought of a public apology. And now a most unlikely figure has thrown his weight behind the inane Mexican standoff – former Prime Minister and staunch anti-apologist John Howard.
The Public Apology caught up with a refreshed-looking Howard this morning in the well-heeled Sydney suburb of Milsons Point to discuss the art of not apologising. And predictably, the 72-year-old backed Gallop to “stick by his guns” in refusing to apologise to Stewart.
“I’ve got a lot of experience in not giving apologies, and if I can offer any advice to David, it would be this: don’t apologise for something that you personally didn’t do,” Howard said.
“I don’t believe that one NRL boss can apologise for the actions of an entire NRL board – and anyway, Stewart had been removed from the NRL for good reason, he got fucking smashed at a club launch after he was named as the face of the code!”
Stewart sensationally demanded an apology from Gallop while the pair shook hands onstage after Sunday night’s grand final. The fullback was referring to Gallop’s decision – made in consultation with the entire NRL board – to ban the player for four matches at the start of the 2009 season following an alleged sexual assault that he was later acquitted of.
Howard drew on his own experience as Prime Minister where he was pressured to make a formal apology to Australia’s Aborigines for past acts committed by previous generations. Howard staunchly refused to bow to overwhelming public sentiment – a decision he doesn’t regret.
“If Stewart thinks an apology is going to heal everything – I’m telling him, it won’t,” he said.
“Then comes all the fucking legal drama and possible damages, when the root of the problem – Stewart’s penchant for getting pissed and fondling young women, allegedly – isn’t even addressed!!”
Howard’s solution to the ongoing dispute between the NRL CEO and the Manly custodian was comparatively simple: an intervention.
“We need to sit these blokes down and just talk, you know?” he said.
“Talk about feelings, hopes, dreams, that kind of shit. And no, not a Northern Territory-style Intervention – geez, I can’t believe [wife] Janette talked me into that one! – but a nice, calm alternative dispute resolution, that’s what I’m talking about.”
“No apologies, no dramas, just two blokes who are a bit different getting together and getting shit done.”
Howard said that rugby league players – and officials – were not so different to politicians.
“If you want to make it in politics – and likewise rugby league – then you’ve got to have a really thin skin. And by that I mean you need to harbour grudges and absolutely, under no circumstances, admit that you were ever wrong.”
“Sure, Kevin Rudd apologised [to the stolen generation]. But look where that wimpy nerd is now. He wouldn’t know a grapple tackle from a chicken wing, he wouldn’t.”
But despite his reluctance to apologise for anything, Howard asked that he express his culpability over one act that still haunts him. A rare apology from a man who throughout his career appeared utterly incapable of admitting wrong.
“This has been hanging over my head for a while. Remember that delivery in Pakistan when I went to visit the troops? I can’t believe the ball slipped out of my hand like that. Greasy sub-continental conditions, not suitable for a tweaker of my calibre. But I should have taken a lighter grip, up towards the tips of my thumb, index and middle finger, and just rolled it out on a good length.”
By Dave Edwards