Australia denies 'lost generation' of Aboriginals

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The Independent Online

Aboriginal leaders expressed outrage yesterday and threatened large-scale disruption of the Sydney Olympic Games after publication of a leaked report by the Australian government that denies the existence of the "Stolen Generation" of indigenous children forcibly taken from their families for more than 50 years.

The policy of removing Aboriginal children, particularly those of mixed blood, from their parents to assimilate them into white society remains a source of bitterness and grief for indigenous Australians. The revelation that John Howard's conservative government is attempting to play down the impact has exacerbated the party's already poor relations with the Aboriginal community.

The report, a submission by the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, John Herron, to a parliamentary inquiry into the Stolen Generation, states: "There was never a generation of stolen children." It says: "The proportion of separated Aboriginal children was never more than 10 per cent, including those who were not forcibly separated and those who were forcibly separated for good reason."

As a storm of protest erupted, Senator Herron stood by the report yesterday. His spokesman said the government "does not seek to defend or justify past policies and practices, but it does assert that the nature and intent of these events has been misinterpreted".

Aboriginal leaders, already angry about Mr Howard's refusal to apologise for past injustices, stepped up their threats to disrupt the Olympic Games in September by staging protests at a time when the eyes of the world will be on Australia.

Lowitja O'Donoghue, former chairwoman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the statutory Aboriginal organisation, who was taken from her family at the age of two, said she was "distraught" to learn of the sentiments expressed in the leaked report. Ms O'Donoghue, usually a moderate, called for a national protest at Parliament House in Canberra.

Mick Dodson, co-author of a landmark report on the Stolen Generation, called Bringing Them Home, accused the government of "denialism", while Charles Perkins, a veteran Aboriginal campaigner, said: "The gloves are off now. Reconciliation is finished. Certainly the Olympic Games will now be in jeopardy. We did not want to target the games, but we have nothing to lose now."

The policy of splitting up Aboriginal families was in force from 1910 until the late 1960s, and is thought to have affected tens of thousands of children. Some were placed with white families, others in church-run orphanages, where many were subjected to a brutal disciplinary regime. Some are now seeking compensation in the Australian courts.

Last week the government's commitment to human rights was questioned by the United Nations and Amnesty International after it threatened to review its participation in international treaties. The move was sparked by a report by a UN committee on racial discrimination that criticised Australia over mandatory sentencing laws that affect Aboriginal people disproportionately.

Australia's 430,000 Aborigines, who make up 2.3 per cent of the population, are the country's most disadvantaged group, in terms of health, employment and life expectancy.

Senator Aden Ridgeway, who is only the second Aboriginal to serve in the Federal parliament, said Senator Herron's comments were "an insult".