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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 13:11 GMT
Aborigine treaty plans dismissed

A plane in Sydney writes the word Howard has avoided
Australian Government ministers have dismissed calls from Aboriginal leaders for a treaty to heal the rifts between the country's black and white peoples.


We ought to drop that idea like a hot potato

Phillip Ruddock
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson said a treaty would be a waste of time and money, while Aboriginal Affairs Minister Philip Ruddock said treaties were about separatism not unity.

"I can guarantee [it] will be a difficult, often acrimonious and, I'm convinced, time-wasting debate," Mr Anderson said.

March across Sydney Harbour Bridge
Hundreds of thousands have joined of marches across the country
Aboriginal leaders have said a treaty would help end racial divisions and compensate for past wrongs.

They say there is overwhelming support among white Australians for a treaty, seen by the hundreds of thousands who have joined their recent reconciliation marches.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) - the country's leading indigenous organisation - said it plans to hold a referendum among Aborigines to find out what issues the treaty should cover.

Apology

Mr Anderson said the proposal would only detract from progress towards reconciliation.

"I see this as potentially just another block to us discussing the things that are really important," he said.

Aboriginal woman
Aborigines are the nation's poorest, least healthy, worst educated and most jailed group
But ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark said a treaty was an integral part of the reconciliation process.

"There's division now, I don't see how you could increase division," Clark said.

Aboriginal leaders have been calling on the government to apologise for the historic mistreatment of their people by whites, saying there can never be any true reconciliation without an apology.

'Stolen generations'

But Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government has consistently ruled out apologising for what happened in the past.

Aborigines in chains
Aboriginals wants the government to recognise past injustices
Aborigines have said a "war" began against them in 1788, when white settlers started driving them off their tribal lands.

One of the most thorny issues is the so-called "stolen generation" - the children taken by the state from their Aborigine parents to be reared in a more "civilised" environment among white institutions or families.

The policy continued over this century until the 1960s and is estimated to have affected more than 100,000 children.

A number of Aborigines who were part of the stolen generation have filed cases in court, although none has been successful.

International organisations such as the United Nations and Oxfam have also slammed the government for its treatment of Aborigines, who make up about 2% of the population.

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See also:

03 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Mass march for aborigines
29 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia slammed over aborigine rights
05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australian minister sparks race row
11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vivid memories of a 'stolen generation'
28 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Symbolic march unites Australia
25 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia rejects UN racism report
28 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Reconciliation deadline dropped
04 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
High level of trauma among Aborigines
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