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Sunday, 3 June, 2001, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Aborigines promised apology
Leader of the Labor Party in Australia Kim Beazley
Beazley: Promises early action if elected
By Phil Mercer in Sydney

In Australia the Labor opposition party has moved to put an apology to the country's indigenous people back on the political agenda ahead of a general election due later this year.

It's about where Australia wants to be in the 21st century, what sort of country we are

Aboriginal senate candidate Warren Mundine

Labor leader Kim Beazley has promised if he wins the election he will make that national apology to Aborigines in the first week of a new parliament.

He also said the party would hold a national conference to determine the best way to recompense indigenous people who had been forcibly removed from their families, the so-called stolen generations.

The ruling Conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly ignored requests for an apology, insisting it should not have to say sorry for policies of the past for which it was not responsible.

Families torn apart

Until the 1960s it was official government policy that many mixed race children - born, for example, with a black mother and a white father and growing up in an aboriginal family - were taken away and placed with foster parents.

The aim was to dilute indigenous culture.

Warren Mundine, the Australian Labor Party's first indigenous senate candidate, believes Mr Howard has missed a golden opportunity in the run up to the election.

Aboriginal woman
Aborigines are the nation's poorest, least healthy, worst educated and most jailed group
He said: "The big picture for Australia in this next federal election is going to be a heart and soul election. It's about where Australia wants to be in the 21st century, what sort of country we are.

"Howard missed the boat... in the area of uniting us, of bringing us together. He did that by not apologising and trying to ignore the history of Australia."

Aborigines make up around two percent of Australia's population. Many live in poverty.

Aborigines in chains
Aboriginals want the government to recognise past injustices

On average they die younger than white Australians, are more likely to be unemployed or in jail.

Aboriginal leaders see an apology from the government as a necessary step on the way towards reconciliation between black and white Australia.

Labor says its position is not about blame or assigning responsibility to present generations, but to acknowledge the past and build better relations for the future.

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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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