Newly elected Australian leader Kevin Rudd renewed a commitment Monday to apologize to indigenous Aborigines for past indignities.
The issue of apologizing for policies that helped make the continent’s original inhabitants its most impoverished minority is a highly divisive one in Australia.
The policies included the forcible removal of indigenous children from their families on the premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative. The practice did not end until the 1970s.
The Labor Party leader said his government would offer the apology on behalf of the nation early in his first term—suggesting a timeframe of next year.
Outgoing Prime Minister John Howard angered many of Australia’s 450,000 Aborigines and their supporters by steadfastly refusing to offer an apology, arguing this generation should not be made to feel guilty for mistakes of the past.
Polls show most people support an apology, and Rudd had promised to do so if he was elected.
Rudd’s sweeping victory over Howard in Saturday’s elections ended almost 12 years of conservative rule in Australia. He immediately put signing the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at the top of his international agenda.