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Former Australian PM attacks parliament on apology to the Stolen Generations

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

File Photo of John Howard.
Image: Alex Bakharev.

Former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard has criticised the Rudd Labor government for apologising to the Stolen Generations in parliament last month. Mr Howard was prime minister before the election last year.

Mr Howard's successor, opposition leader and leader of the Liberal party, Brendan Nelson supported the apology, making a speech of his own in parliament. The apology was unanimously supported by the House of Representatives.

While speaking to students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the former Prime Minister defended his decision not to apologise to indigenous Australians during his 11 years in office.

"I do not believe, as a matter of principle, that one generation can accept responsibility for the acts of an earlier generation. I don't accept that as a matter of principle," Mr Howard said.

"In some cases, children were wrongly removed; in other cases, they were removed for good reason; in other cases, they were given up; and in other cases, the judgment on the removal is obscure or difficult to make."

Mr Howard said the apology was dangerous as it led many to believe that the government had "ticked the box" on indigenous issues in Australia. "The third reason I wasn't in favour of it was that it seems to me that there is a real danger that when we do something like that, there's a psychological reaction of the indigenous box has been ticked, and we've solved the problem,"

"The commitment to do practical things such as reducing the gap between the life expectancy of indigenous Australians and other Australians, which is unacceptably high, is pushed into the background," the former PM told listeners.

Mr Howard said there had been a failure over the past few decades to address indigenous affairs. "I think we persevered for too long with the notion of separate development. I think the only way the indigenous people of Australia can get what we call a fair go is for them to become part of the mainstream of the community and get the benefits and opportunities available from mainstream Australian society, whilst recognising … the particular and special place of the indigenous culture in the life of the country," said Mr Howard.

Mr Howard rejected suggestions from a member of the audience that his refusal to apologise to indigenous Australians and refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol lost his government the election. "The first lesson I learned is you win some, you lose some,"

"I did have the opportunity of winning four elections," said Mr Howard.

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