Aborigines and the PM..
PM Rewrites Australian Document
Updated 3:03 AM ET May 11, 2000
By ROHAN SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - Prime Minister John Howard rejected an
official statement of reconciliation between black and white
Australians today, angering Aborigines and throwing into doubt the
success of a historic ceremony later this month.
Howard again refused to offer an official apology to Australia's
indigenous people for past injustices, and rewrote an official
declaration of reconciliation penned by a multi-race consultative
The government-appointed Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation on
Wednesday released its long-awaited reconciliation document, which
will be officially handed to the government at a two-day ceremony May
27-28 in Sydney.
The event - named Corroborree 2000 after an Aboriginal word for
ceremony - will culminate 10 years of work by the council to map
Australia's path to reconciliation by the centenary of federation on
Jan. 1, 2001.
But Howard today rejected key aspects of the document, in particular a
paragraph that reads: "As we walk the journey of healing, one part of
the nation apologizes and expresses its sorrow and sincere regret for
the injustices of the past, so the other part accepts the apologies
While recognizing there have been past injustices against Aborigines,
Howard argues there should be no "cross-generational" guilt, and has
refused to apologize on behalf of all Australians.
"I am not willing to apologize for things my government and my
generation didn't do," Howard said last week.
In Howard's alternative reconciliation document, released today, the
apology is replaced with the phrase, "Australians express their
sorrow and profoundly regret the injustices of the past" against
Numbering some 530,000 in a mostly white population of 19 million,
Aborigines are Australia's poorest and most disadvantaged minority,
with a life expectancy 20 years shorter than whites and the nation's
highest rates of preventable diseases.
The government and Aborigines have been in a long-running battle over
land rights and an apology to thousands of Aborigines who were
forcibly removed from their families as children under past
government policies in the belief that Aborigines were a dying race.
Aboriginal leaders warned today that the Corroborree 2000 event will
be marred by protests unless Howard endorses the council's document.
Most Australians support reconciliation, and Corroborree 2000 is
expected to attract thousands of people to the steps of the Sydney
Opera House and to a march across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
"Without this apology, there can be no real reconciliation, and the
conscience of the nation will never rest in peace," said one leader,
He said Howard's "audacity" in rewriting the council's document
showed a lack of compassion and was deceitful.
Another leader, former reconciliation council chairman Pat Dodson,
said the council's document must be accepted by the government and
written into law.
"If there is no real acceptance by the prime minister of the
then it will become meaningless within a very short space of time,"