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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Winning Australia's aboriginal vote
There are 360,000 aborigines in Australia
By Phil Mercer in Sydney

Prominent aborigines have accused the two leading candidates in Australia's federal election of offering nothing to ease the plight of the country's indigenous people.

The racist antics of our leaders is making Australia like the old South Africa

Michael Mansell, lawyer
Tasmania-based aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansell, a highly respected figure in the native community, said his people were "bracing themselves for more tough times ahead whoever wins the election."

To many observers Australia's treatment of its 350,000 native people is its greatest shame.

Many live in third world conditions and are disadvantaged at almost every turn and have been for decades.

Aborigines are more likely to be ill, unemployed or in jail than any other group. They die - on average - 20 years younger than anyone else in a country where health care for the majority is world class. Levels of domestic violence and child molestation are sky high in many settlements, which are self-destructing on alcohol and drug abuse.


Both major parties say aboriginal welfare is a serious policy concern. Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition government, which is seeking its third term in office on 10 November, has outlined its plans.

Prime Minister John Howard
Mr Howard: No apology
The Labor opposition, lead by Kim Beazley, has ambitious ideas of its own. Mr Beazley has said he would make a formal apology to the aborigines for past injustices meted out to the indigenous community since colonisation by the British more than 200 years ago.

That would include saying sorry to the "stolen generation", where children of mixed black and white parents, were often forcibly removed from their families.

The aim was to dilute indigenous culture. The policy persisted until the 1970s.

When John Howard won the last election he declared reconciliation was a priority. But very little has been done. The prime minister says the debate has been hijacked by those with a "politically correct view of life."

Mr Howard will not issue an apology. He insists actions not words will ultimately make a difference.

"We're still chugging away at practical reconciliation," he says. "And we've made some progress especially on health matters."


At the launch of the ruling coalition's native policy, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Philip Ruddock, said the government would embark on "a new era in indigenous affairs, with a clear focus on self-reliance for families and individuals." Current spending levels on indigenous projects would be maintained.

Opposition leader Kim Beazley
Kim Beazley says Labor would apologise
The Labor opposition, while critical of Mr Howard's record on relations with aborigines, does not have a proud record either. The previous Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating also failed to address the core concerns of indigenous people.

Warren Mundine, Labor's first aboriginal candidate to contest a seat in the upper house, the senate, told BBC News Online his party was ready to offer the aborigines a "final settlement" they would be happy with.

The pillar of Labor's policy will be to draw up a treaty between the black and white communities, the issuing of an official apology for past wrongs as well giving indigenous people a greater degree of self-determination.

But aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansell believes his people will get little sympathy from any future Labor or coalition government.

Mr Mansell says the current government's hardline approach towards asylum seekers, where boat-loads of illegal immigrants are refused entry to Australia and are shipped off to refugee camps on remote Pacific islands such as Nauru, adversely impacts on native people.

"The racist antics of our leaders is making Australia like the old South Africa," he said. "Here it is whites first, blacks second."

See also:

29 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia slammed over Aborigine rights
24 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigines attack welfare culture
05 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australian minister sparks race row
28 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Reconciliation deadline dropped
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