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Monday, 28 February, 2000, 11:38 GMT
Reconciliation deadline dropped
John Howard
John Howard says reconciliation will take generations
By Red Harrison in Sydney

Australian Prime Minister John Howard says he has formally abandoned a plan to achieve reconciliation between his country's Aboriginal and white people by the end of this year.

Mr Howard told a national newspaper, the Australian, the target had been too optimistic and real reconciliation would take generations.

Aborigines in chains
Saying sorry has been a stumbling block
The Australian Government and Aboriginal leaders have been working for years to draft a document of reconciliation by the end of 2000, a deadline originally endorsed by the prime minister.

But Mr Howard now says the deadline was a mistake. True reconciliation to heal the rift between black and white Australians, he says, will take years, and the document of reconciliation is merely a part of that process.


I think it's the most disgusting decision ever made by any political leader in this country ever

Charles Perkins
Mr Howard says the main stumbling block is disagreement over a national apology to Aborigines for their treatment by previous white generations.

The prime minister has consistently refused to apologise, saying his generation is not responsible for the past.

One prominent Aboriginal authority, Charles Perkins, says most Australians do want to say sorry, and he accuses Mr Howard of breaking his word.

"I think it's the most disgusting decision ever made by any political leader in this country ever," he said.

'Broken faith'

"After all the work that's gone into it ... I think he's broken faith with the Australian public, not only Aboriginal people, but the Australian public, and we've all worked very hard.

"We've got a million signatures on the 'sorry book' and 99% wanted really something to happen in this country, and now he's just gone and thrown it all away."

Other Aboriginal spokesmen said the prime minister was being honest in admitting failure.

The government says it is aware of a recent survey which shows widespread opposition to an apology from white Australia.

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See also:

13 Oct 99 |  UK
Queen meets Aborigines
10 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Aborigines launch landmark case
04 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
High level of trauma among Aborigines

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