Were he to resile, he would also be criticised for leaving it so long.
It rather exemplifies what the nature of saying "sorry" is all about.
You cannot do it genuinely without confronting yourself. I would maintain that men in particular are not very good at this sort of confrontation.
Howard has often expemplified this sort of intransigence. We could say he is a product of his cultural heritage, but that is no excuse. He was also our Prime Minister and we should expect something better than he offered.
History will assess this better than we will now, but I think we will look back in 10 or 20 years time and realsie that John Howard did this country no service by his bloody-mindedness. And he shoudl ahve done better!