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Aborigines threaten to shut Uluru

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock (file photo)
Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a popular tourist draw

Aboriginal leaders have threatened to ban tourists from one of Australia's top landmarks in protest at what they describe as racist government policies.

The warning over Uluru comes one year since police and soldiers were sent into indigenous settlements to try to tackle high rates of child sex abuse.

Bans on alcohol and pornography were introduced along with strict controls on how welfare payments were spent.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he remained committed to the initiative.

Addressing an Australian Labor Party conference in Queensland, Mr Rudd said the government's priority was to improve the lives of indigenous people.

"Progress has been made in the last 12 months, but much remains to be done to meet our targets to close the gap on indigenous life opportunities," he said.

'Racist legislation'

The so-called "intervention" in the Northern Territory was introduced by former Prime Minster John Howard's conservative government.

Chronic disadvantage had led to Aboriginal life expectancy being 17 years below that of other Australians.

CHILD ABUSE REPORT
Abuse is serious, widespread and often unreported
Aboriginal people not the only victims or perpetrators of sexual abuse
Contributing factors include poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, pornography
Health and social services desperately need improving

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In response to a damning report about widespread child abuse, troops, police officers and medical teams were sent to more than 70 indigenous communities.

But 12 months after the intervention began, tribal leaders from Central Australia have threatened to ban tourists from climbing Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock.

Vince Forrester, an elder from the Mutitjulu people, who are the rock's traditional custodians, told a rally in Sydney that the government's actions had been a disaster.

He insisted that Aboriginal men had been portrayed as violent alcoholics who beat women and abuse children.

"We've got to take some affirmative action to stop this racist piece of legislation.

"We're going to throw a big rock on top of the tourist industry... we will close the climb and no one will climb Uluru ever again, no one," he told the meeting.

The BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney says that critics of the policy say that young Aborigines are still vulnerable to sexual assault despite the intervention.



SEE ALSO
Aborigine abuse crackdown begins
25 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Aboriginal abuse curbs 'racist'
22 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Alcohol banned in Aborigine areas
21 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Aborigine child sex abuse 'rife'
15 Jun 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Alcohol 'time-bomb' of Aborigines
12 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia's lost generation
16 Feb 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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