By Praveen Menon
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Monday pledged about $300 million to improve the lives of its Aboriginal people as the country marks 15 years since a national apology for forcibly removing Indigenous children from families under old assimilation policies.
The government announced that A$424 million ($293 million) would go to “Closing the Gap”, which would include providing safe and reliable water for remote Indigenous communities, building new homes, making essential food affordable and accessible and supporting families affected by domestic violence.
Australia’s approximately one million Indigenous citizens have lived in the country for about 60,000 years, but rank well below the national average on most socioeconomic measures and experience a disproportionate rate of suicide, domestic violence and imprisonment.
As many as one in three Indigenous children were taken from their families between 1910 and the 1970s in an attempt to assimilate them into white society, a move described by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a “great blot” on the soul of the country at a formal meeting. apologies to the so-called ‘Stolen Generation’ in 2008.
As of last November, the country was still failing to meet nearly half of its goals to improve the lives of indigenous peoples, including the problems of adult incarceration and suicide.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in parliament that the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s life outcomes not only persists, but some are even widening.
“These are not gaps, they are gaps. It is clear that there is not enough support directed at organizations to deliver for communities, Albanese said.
“It will be a long time before we can say we have done enough, but we have to do this work together. Day after day, week after week,” he said.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton apologized for boycotting the national apology in 2008.
“I have apologized for that in the past and I repeat that apology again today,” Dutton said in his speech to parliament.
“I didn’t understand the symbolic meaning of the Stolen Generation apology at the time.”
Albanians are seeking bipartisan support for a historic referendum this year to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution.
The referendum will establish a so-called indigenous “vote”, which can protest to parliament about policies that affect them. There is currently no mention of Indigenous community in the Australian constitution.
“For all of us, I am optimistic about the success of the
referendum because I am optimistic that Australians will support this embrace of truth, justice, decency and respect,” Albanese told MPs in the speech.
Australia’s First Nations people were not included in the census and were recognized as part of the Australian population until 1967.
($1 = 1.4468 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Michael Perry)