Australia's newly elected Labour government Wednesday said it would formally apologise to the so-called "stolen generation" of Aborigines as the first item of business of the new parliament.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will deliver the apology on February 13, the first day of business for the new parliament, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said.
Macklin said the apology to those Aborigines who were forcibly taken from their families as children, and who were mostly raised in foster care or institutions, was the "first, necessary step to move forward from the past".
The previous conservative government steadfastly refused to offer an apology to Aborigines for past wrongs and implied that saying "sorry" would place the blame on the public.
"The apology will be made on behalf of the Australian government and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people," Macklin said in a statement.
Macklin did not reveal details of the apology but she said the government had been consulting widely with Aboriginal leaders and indigenous groups on the wording to ensure it fostered better relations.
"Once we establish this respect, the government can work with indigenous communities to improve services aimed at closing the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians," Macklin said.
Thousands of Aboriginal children, mostly those of mixed descent, were taken from their families and placed in institutions or foster care or adopted under policies designed to assimilate them into the mainstream community.
A 1997 report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that the effects of separation on the lives of indigenous Australians had been devastating for both those who were removed and their families and communities.
Macklin also said there would be a national Welcome to Country ceremony on February 12 where a senior representative of the local Aboriginal community would welcome those attending the opening of the parliament.
"This Welcome will carry national significance in symbolising a future of respect and partnership with indigenous people," she said. (AFP)
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