Australia's new government will issue a formal apology to Aborigines for the abuses they suffered in the past, prime minister-elect Kevin Rudd has promised.
Mr Rudd praised Mr Howard's dignity in defeat
Mr Rudd, whose Labor Party swept to power in an election on Saturday, said the apology would come early in his first parliamentary term.
Outgoing Prime Minister John Howard had repeatedly refused to say sorry.
Votes are still being counted in Mr Howard's constituency, where he faces losing his seat to a former TV host.
Indigenous Australians remain an impoverished minority, with a much lower life expectancy than the rest of the population.
Thousands of Aboriginal children were handed over to white families under Australian government assimilation policies from 1915 to 1969.
The issue continues to be a controversial one among Australians.
Mr Howard held back from offering a full apology to the so-called Stolen Generations, saying the current generation should not feel guilty about mistakes from the past.
More than 13.5m of Australia's roughly 21m people registered to vote
Electors choose candidates for all 150 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 40 of the 76 seats in the upper house, the Senate
PM John Howard (above) has led the conservative Liberal-National party coalition to four election wins since 1996
Kevin Rudd is taking the centre-left Labor Party to the polls for the first time as leader
Election issues: The economy, environment and war in Iraq
But Mr Rudd signalled his administration's change of direction soon after Labor's election victory.
"It will be early, early in the parliamentary term," Mr Rudd said of his planned apology.
"However, we would frame it in a consultative fashion with communities, and that may take some time," he added.
Mr Rudd, due to be sworn in as prime minister next week, has promised to change the country's direction in a number of policy areas - including pledging to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
He has said he will name his new cabinet by the end of the week.
One of his key appointments is expected to be Julia Gillard as deputy prime minister - who would be the first woman to hold the position.
Meanwhile, Mr Howard's Liberal-National coalition faces a huge task to rebuild its parties' fortunes after what correspondents described as a humiliating defeat.
Former political journalist Maxine McKew is close to unseating Mr Howard in the Sydney constituency he has represented for 33 years.
Voters in Bennelong have elected Mr Howard in 13 consecutive elections.
If unseated, he would be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat for 78 years.