Date: February 21 2004
Federal Opposition Leader Mark Latham has put the stolen generation on the election agenda, telling schoolchildren that a Labor government would apologise for breaking up Aboriginal families. Mr Latham said at the Leongatha Secondary College in Gippsland that the ALP would do more to recognise Aboriginal land rights and fight poverty. He told the students an apology was necessary to maintain basic family values.
"If any of our families were broken up in that way we expect someone along the line... to say sorry for that length of separation," Mr Latham said. "I don't think there's any shame in people saying sorry. We will be making that apology."
The vow puts him in contrast with Prime Minister John Howard, who has refused to apologise since assuming the country's leadership in 1996. Last year Mr Howard suggested to Coalition MPs that the issue was now off the agenda, saying that relations with the Aboriginal community were good, the best evidence being the fact that no one now asked him for an apology. Mr Latham, taking a leaf from Mr Howard's "practical reconciliation", said the best way to reconcile black and white was to improve the living standards of Aborigines.
He said the ALP would try to end Aboriginal poverty with a range of policies. Mr Latham was travelling around the marginal regional Victorian seat of McMillan, in a brief reprise of his recent tour of regional NSW. Mr Howard will visit the seat next week as part of his election-year visits to key marginal seats.
Mr Latham said a redistribution since the last election meant McMillan was now notionally held by the Liberals. He continued to push his message on parenting and vocational training and followed up on themes from a speech to he gave to the National Press Club earlier this week.
At Good Beginnings, a parenting service in Moe, Mr Latham returned to his pet theme of early reading for children and parental responsibility. With the sitting Labor MP, Christian Zahra, at his side, Mr Latham also visited an apprentice training centre at Warragul. The Opposition Leader took the opportunity to blast the Federal Government for not covering a $21 million shortfall to fund the Pakenham bypass. He said Labor would provide the money if elected. He promised that Gippsland would share in the extra university and TAFE places that Labor was offering, and said dairy farmers could benefit from trade practices reform that would reduce the power of the major supermarket chains.
He promised that in a few weeks he would be back - this time with his "Opportunity Express" bus - for a tour of regional Victoria, complete with the town meetings he recently tried north of the border.