PRIME Minister John Howard has signalled a huge
shift in the Government's approach to reconciliation and eased fears
about the erosion of land rights, a prominent Aboriginal leader says.
Cape York Policy Institute director Noel Pearson described Mr
Howard's speech a week ago to the National Reconciliation Planning
Workshop as his finest.
Mr Howard told the meeting last Monday the problem with approaches
to reconciliation had been that it let too many people in white
Australia off the hook.
He said the Government was not seeking to wind back or undermine
native title and land rights and would "meet the indigenous people of
this country more than half way if necessary".
Mr Pearson told ABC television yesterday: "I think the shift that
happened on Monday . . . has been fundamentally tectonic in its
significance. Because the Prime Minister has affirmed, very clearly,
that symbols and practical reconciliation, as he's called it, both
He said Mr Howard's pledge not to undermine land rights was an
important guarantee and the Prime Minister must be taken at his word
once the Government had a majority in the Senate.
In praising Mr Howard, Mr Pearson rejected Labor's call for a
separate indigenous affairs ministry.
While Mr Howard's comments had been well received, Indigenous
Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone's address to the same workshop on
Wednesday resulted in several Aboriginal delegates turning their backs
during her speech.
But Senator Vanstone yesterday played down the protest.
"It's a free country and people are entitled to (protest)," she
told the Ten Network.