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26 May 2008 08:46
Aboriginal leaders used national “Sorry Day” on Monday, the day Australia acknowledges past injustices to Aborigines, to renew calls for compensation for their past mistreatment.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to Aborigines in February, but his government, which came to power in November 2007, has stopped short of offering compensation.
“There is still the unquestionable need for reparations and compensation,” the National Sorry Day Committee said in a statement. “Australia is waiting for them to prove that they have more to offer than a symbolic gesture.”
A 1997 human rights report found that past assimilation policies of forcibly removing aboriginal children from parents to be raised as white was attempted genocide and called for a national apology and compensation.
The tens of thousands of children were taken away between the 1880s to the 1960s are called the “stolen generation”.
Australia’s prime minister marked National Sorry Day by unveiling a calligraphic manuscript of his government’s apology, to be displayed in Parliament House in Canberra.
“Some people say that the problem with the national apology is that its all about symbols.
You know something, there is something very potent about an apology if through the process of giving it we then clear a path of action ahead of us,” said Rudd, but he made no mention of compensation.
The Rudd government’s May budget committed to spending Aus$1,2-billion ($1,15-billion) over five years to improve aboriginal health, education, employment and housing.
Australia has about 460 000 indigenous Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, about 2% of the 21-million population, and they are the most disadvantaged group in society, with a life expectancy 17 years less than other Australians.
Aborigines have far higher rates of infant mortality, unemployment, imprisonment, alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said the government should carry out all the recommendations of the 1997 human rights report, not just issue an apology.
“It is now time to take the step beyond sorry and address the outstanding needs of the ‘stolen generations’,” said Calma.
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