Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has used the platform of receiving an honorary doctorate to criticise the state of Australian public discourse, saying "civility is lost".
"We have lost a little of our national bearings, lost a little in a national culture of learned helplessness," he said on Friday at the Australian National University, where he accepted the degree.
Mr Rudd, who made a formal apology to Australia's Indigenous people in 2008, spoke of "a shrieking culture of partisan recrimination that now passes for our national politics" and the ugly re-emergence of a politics of race.
"In Indigenous Australia, where reconciliation seemed possible not long ago, we now seem to be sliding back into older more familiar patterns of division and despair," he said.
He spoke of an unnecessarily "vicious public culture, well beyond the realms necessary for robust disagreement and debate. Where civility is lost and where to admit error is to admit weakness and therefore yield to defeat."
Mr Rudd's speech was also peppered with humour, memories of his alma mater and an explanation of why he would not wear his velvet doctoral hat, which he described as "spectacularly big" and "spectacularly silly".
The university culminated its annual graduation ceremonies by honouring four distinguished Australians, including Mr Rudd, his wife and businesswoman Thérèse Rein, former military commander Sir Angus Houston, and Indonesia's former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.
It was a big day for the couple, both distinguished 1981 ANU alumna and Burgmann College residents, who returned to the campus where they met and were each awarded a doctor of laws honoris causa.
Ms Rein shared a moving account of the couple's story during the morning ceremony.
Later that afternoon, it was Mr Rudd's turn and, after rising with his new academic title, he blew a kiss to his wife as she applauded in the crowd.
Vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt acknowledged the two-time prime minister's legacy developing the historic national apology to Indigenous Australians, and steering Australia's economy through the global financial crisis.
He mentioned Mr Rudd's continued global leadership as president of the US-based Asia Society Policy Institute, chairman of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, a distinguished fellow at Chatham House in London, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and co-chairman of the World Economic Forum's China Council.
Ms Rein's work through Igneous Group to improving the lives of people with disability was recognised as was her commitment to philanthropy.
ANU chancellor Professor Gareth Evans said the honorary degrees reflected the immense contribution each person had made to Australia and to the world and said the couple were both "true friends of the ANU".
"Kevin Rudd is a great Australian leader of international standing who continues to contribute to society," he said.
"We are certainly very proud to be able to recognise here today the quality and the quantity of his contribution, not only to this country but of course to this great university of ours which we are now are so proud to make him a more permanent and deeply entrenched member."