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Vol. 72/No. 11      March 17, 2008

Australian gov’t apologizes to Aborigines
SYDNEY, Australia—Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an official apology February 13 to those who have become known as the “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children. Around 5,000 people, predominantly Aboriginal, gathered outside the Parliament in Canberra to listen to a televised broadcast of speeches by Rudd and parliamentary opposition leader Brendan Nelson.

Many of those gathered had rallied the previous day against the federal takeover of 73 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

Between 1910 and 1970, an estimated 10-30 percent of Aboriginal children were taken from their families by government agencies as part of a racist assimilation policy. A decades-long fight for recognition and justice by members of the Stolen Generations has won widespread popular support.

Despite demands for compensation by indigenous leaders, both Rudd and Nelson opposed any compensation.

The bipartisan parliamentary apology reflects a shift in government policy that began with an official program of “reconciliation” set up in the early 1990s. Aboriginal ceremony was incorporated into the formal opening of Parliament for the first time ever this year.

The refusal of the previous prime minister, John Howard, to apologize to the Stolen Generations prompted many protests during his 12 years in office. In 2000, as many as one million people joined “walks for reconciliation” around the country.

In his speech Rudd, who is from the Labor Party, promised to halve the “widening gap in literacy, numeracy, and employment” within a decade and to deal with high infant mortality and other health issues among Aborigines. He proposed a bipartisan “war cabinet”—the first since World War II—to implement these goals.

Nelson, Howard’s successor as head of the Liberal Party, endorsed the formal apology. At the same time, he defended Howard’s intervention in the Northern Territory last year, through which the federal government took control of most townships on Aboriginal land there.

Rudd also supported the takeover. While he has promised to reintroduce a job creation scheme and a permit system through which Aboriginal communities control who enters their land in the Northern Territory, his government has continued to implement a program to monitor welfare payments to all Aborigines living in these communities.

The February 12 protest of 1,000 demanded “Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs” and an immediate review of the federal intervention. Barbara Shaw, an Aboriginal rights activist from Alice Springs, said a delegation of 20 from the Northern Territory raised A$40,000 and drove 2,000 miles by bus to participate in the protest. She explained that government managers of the communities had used their wide powers to block participation, stopping her from talking to people about joining the delegation.

“We can manage our own things,” said Valerie Martin, from Yuendumu, who came as part of a delegation. “We know how to raise our own kids. We don’t want to be treated like animals.”

Meanwhile, a February 13 meeting in Perth protested the death in police custody of an Aboriginal elder from Warburton, West Australia. The man was arrested January 26 on a drunk driving charge. He collapsed and died after being transported through the desert heat 355 miles to a courthouse in Laverton, and then, when bail was refused, 200 miles to the prison in Kalgoorlie.  
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