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Aborigines say Australia intervention racist

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Aborigines feel a strong sense of injustice over an Australian government intervention into scores of troubled remote communities and believe the program is racist, an independent review said Monday.

Aboriginal men watch Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologise to Aboriginal Australians on a big screen outside Parliament House in Canberra February 13, 2008. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

Australia’s former conservative government sent police and soldiers into outback towns and settlements in June 2007 to stamp out widespread child sex abuse, fuelled by chronic alcoholism from “rivers of grog” in indigenous communities.

But an independent review of the intervention, set up by the centre-left Labour government after it won power last November, found widespread problems with the program, which was aimed at 73 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.

“In many communities there is a deep belief that the measures introduced by the Australian government ... were a collective imposition based on race,” said the review, released Monday by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.

Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and have a life expectancy 17 years shorter than other Australians.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made indigenous affairs a priority of his government, winning praise for apologising in parliament for historic injustices against Aborigines.

He has also promised to continue the controversial intervention, but to review the way it operates.

Former prime minister John Howard ordered the intervention in the final months of his 11-and-a-half years in office, declaring the widespread sexual abuse of Aboriginal children to be a national emergency.

Under the intervention, extra police and medical teams were sent to Aboriginal communities, where alcohol and pornography were banned and welfare payments were quarantined to make sure the money is spent on food, clothing and health care.

The independent review found the intervention affected 45,500 Aboriginal men, women and children in more than 500 communities in the Northern Territory, and progress on health care and security were undermined by a lack of full community support.

“There is a strong sense of injustice that Aboriginal people and their culture have been seen as exclusively responsible for problems within their communities,” it said, adding many problems stemmed from years of government neglect.

The review said the intervention should continue, but the government needed to build a new relationship with Aborigines in order to ensure community support for the program.

“The relationship must be recalibrated to the principle of racial equality and respect for the human rights of all Australian citizens,” it found.

Editing by Paul Tait