Australia plans new state for year 2000

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AUSTRALIA'S prime minister has announced plans for the vast Northern Territory to become the country's seventh state on 1 January 2001.

The territory, which comprises one sixth of the country but contains less than 1 per cent of its population, will become Australia's first new state since the Federation was established in 1901.

Australia's prime minister, John Howard, said the complex issues of Aborigine land rights, mining royalties and the ownership of uranium deposits in the territory would require consideration. But Aboriginal leaders have already expressed anger over the announcement. They complain that they feel shut out of the negotiations and fear the change in status may affect indigenous rights.

"The issue has been totally steamrolled," said Josie Cranshaw, Northern Territory Commissioner for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. "It has been put through with indecent haste and is a way of denying all citizens' rights." One third of the territory's population are Aborigines, who own 50 per cent of the state's land and 87 per cent of the coastline.

Less interference from central government would be one of the benefits of becoming a state; the world's first voluntary euthanasia law existed for nine months in the Northern Territory, before being overturned by the federal parliament.

Mr Howard said negotiations for the terms and conditions for the new state will start once its people have voted on the proposal.