CANBERRA Australia's government will formally apologise on February 13 to Aborigines forcibly taken from their homes under past assimilation policies, a senior minister said on Wednesday, bringing peace to the "Stolen Generation".
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would deliver an apology in the national parliament, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said, ending more than a decade of bitter division over the pace of reconciliation between indigenous and other Australians.
"A national apology to the Stolen Generations and their families is a first, necessary step to move forward from the past," Macklin said in a statement.
"The apology will be made on behalf of the Australian government and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people," she said.
Rudd's centre-left Labour Party made an apology to indigenous Australians a key part of its campaign for national elections in November, which ended 11 years of conservative rule under John Howard.
On Tuesday Rudd ruled out compensation payments after Aboriginal demands for a A$1 billion (448 million pound) reparation fund for victims of past policies.
Macklin's narrowing of the apology to past governments is aimed at limiting legal compensation claims and soothing community opposition to the move.
Christine King of the Stolen Generations Alliance helped Macklin decide the wording of an apology that conservative lawmakers have warned could open the door to massive compensation claims and she choked back tears as the date was announced.
"Older people thought they would never live to see this day," King said.
Aborigines are Australia's most disadvantaged group. Many live in Third World conditions in remote outback settlements.
The 1997 "Bringing Them Home" report found Stolen Generation children, as depicted in the 2002 film "Rabbit-Proof Fence", were forcibly taken and placed in orphanages run by churches or charities, or fostered out to socialise them to European culture.
Some were brutalised or abused.
But John Howard, as prime minister, rejected an apology, arguing that because the removal of aboriginal children between the 1870s and 1960s was done by past governments, such a move could open the door to reparation claims.
All six state governments have already made official apologies to Aborigines, who were legally classed as part of the country's "flora and fauna" until 1967. A landmark referendum that year saw Australians vote to allow Aborigines to be counted in the population.
Last week the island state of Tasmania approved a A$5 million compensation fund for 106 Stolen Generation Aborigines taken from their families. State Premier Paul Lennon said no amount could make up for the hurt suffered.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; editing by Roger Crabb)