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Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 12:34 GMT 13:34 UK
Australian minister sparks race row
Sydney Olympics ceremony
The Sydney Games had been held as an example of reconciliation
Australia's Reconciliation Minister is at the centre of a growing storm over comments made to foreign newspapers about the country's Aboriginal population.

Surely we should put this sort of nonsense behind us

John Howard, Australian PM
The minister, Philip Ruddock, is under fire for telling French newspaper Le Monde that Aborigines were disadvantaged because they had come into contact with "developed civilisations" later than other indigenous peoples.

Unlike native American Indians, he is quoted as saying, Aborigines were hunter-gatherers who had not mastered "the techniques of agriculture" or developed the wheel.

Activists have criticised Mr Ruddock saying his comments demonstrate a fundamental lack of respect for and understanding of Aboriginal culture.

Philip Ruddock
Philip Ruddock: Need to focus on tackling disadvantage
They have accused him of undermining recent signs of progress in relations between black and white Australians built up by the Sydney Olympics.

On Wednesday it was revealed that as well as talking to Le Monde, Mr Ruddock had made similar comments to the Washington Post earlier in the year in which he said the government was starting "from a very low base" in improving conditions for Aborigines.

He has said his comments have been taken out of context and were in no way meant to be disparaging.

'Mistaken analysis'

Today's disadvantage essentially stems from the whole history of dispossession and mistreatment

Evelyn Scott, Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation
"In no way then or now did I intend to reflect adversely on indigenous culture," he told the Melbourne-based newspaper, The Age.

"My comments need to be seen in the context of a wide-ranging discussion on the reasons for Aboriginal disadvantage," he said, adding it was more important to focus attention on tackling that disadvantage.

However, the Chairwoman of the Council of Aboriginal Reconciliation, Evelyn Scott, says that whatever context Mr Ruddock had taken his analysis of Aboriginal problems had missed the point.

Olympics closing ceremony
Activists say Mr Ruddock's comments have undermined post-Olympics optimism
"Today's disadvantage essentially stems from the whole history of dispossession and mistreatment following British colonisation," she told the news agency AFP.

The opposition Labor Party and the Australian Democrats have called for Mr Ruddock, who is also Immigration Minister, to resign or be sacked.

Prime Minister John Howard has said he fully supports Mr Ruddock and would not be asking him to resign.

"I'll be backing him 100 per cent," Mr Howard told Adelaide's Radio 5DN.

'Historical fact'

The living standards of many Aborignes fall well below those of most white Australians
He said the growing row over Mr Ruddock's comments illustrated how trivial and demeaning much of the debate on Aboriginal issues had become.

"Surely we can do better than nitpick over whether or not somebody has correctly or incorrectly expressed a view on a historical fact," he said.

"We should put this sort of nonsense behind us."

Mr Ruddock's comments were also backed by fellow National Party MP Ian Causley who told reporters on Thursday he believed Aborigines were disadvantaged partly because they preferred hunting to school.

"It's not their thing," he said. "They, I suppose, tend to go out and do their own hunting things. They ... are not inclined to education."

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See also:

11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Court rejects 'stolen children' claim
11 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vivid memories of a 'stolen generation'
27 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigines in 'poor' housing
25 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia rejects UN racism report
10 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Lost childhood of the 'stolen generation'
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