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Only Coalition can unite Australia: Howard -

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Only Coalition can unite Australia: Howard

Broadcast: 12/10/2007

Reporter: Hayden Cooper

The Prime Minister has moved to make Indigenous reconciliation an election issue, by claiming only
his Government can achieve the goal.


VIRGINIA TRIOLI: The Prime Minister has moved to make Indigenous reconciliation an election issue
by claiming only his Government can achieve the goal.

John Howard's promise of a referendum has been welcomed in some quarters but condemned as a stunt
by others. And as the election draws ever closer, the Prime Minister also released a manifesto
today which emphasises his Government's successes.

From Canberra, Hayden Cooper reports.

HAYDEN COOPER: He calls it a watershed moment and John Howard believe he alone can bridge the
divide on Indigenous reconciliation.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: We can't finish the business on this issue unless we can unite.

DAVID ROSS: He's like a snake who's just shed his skin.

HAYDEN COOPER: "Too smooth" is how some Aboriginal leaders react to the Prime Minister's new

DAVID ROSS, CENTRAL LAND COUNCIL: He's got a brand new skin but he's the same old snake, you know,
he's got the same venom. Nothing has changed. He's got the same moves. Aboriginal people are left
with this hollow old skin and not even an apology to go with it.

FRED CHANEY, RECONCILIATION AUSTRALIA: I think that's a pity. I think that a national apology for
bad behaviour by every government in Australia, particularly with the respect to the removal of
children is an appropriate thing to do, and I think it's an important, again, piece of the jigsaw
of reconciliation.

HAYDEN COOPER: He may not have said "sorry" but it was a sudden and significant shift and new
urgency from the Prime Minister to deal with a long standing trouble spot. But is it genuine? Some
critics suspect Mr Howard's new reconciliation is about nothing more than pulling a political
rabbit from a hat.

PAT O'SHANE, NSW MAGISTRATE: Don't suspend your disbelief too soon. Maintain your cynicism. Wait
for details. And I don't think there are going to be any details.

JOHN HOWARD: There are some people who are styled as Indigenous leaders that will never accept
anything I say because they come from a radically different standpoint.

HAYDEN COOPER: There's nothing radically different about Federal Labor's standpoint. The two major
parties are now closer together, but there is still a dose of scepticism from Kevin Rudd.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: After 11 years in office, what Mr Howard does as we head into the
election is a matter for Mr Howard. Our policy has been long standing.

JOHN HOWARD: I don't believe Labor could unite conservative and progressive Australia on this
issue. I don't.

HAYDEN COOPER: In other words, only a re-elected Coalition Government can achieve reconciliation.
That's the Prime Minister's firm view as he tries to turn what many perceive to be a weakness into
a strength. It seems part of the process involves owning up to past mistakes.

JOHN HOWARD, 1997 ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: I believe that is an absolute myth. It is absolutely contrary
to the fact and I absolutely repudiate it.

JOHN HOWARD: I think, looking back, I might have handled things better. I might have handled myself
better at the reconciliation conference in 1997.

HAYDEN COOPER: One of his predecessors says it takes more than a simple acknowledgement.

MALCOLM FRASER, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: The sense of respect has to be rebuilt between Indigenous
and other Australians, or in particular, between Indigenous Australians and the Government.

JACKIE HUGGINS, RECONCILIATION AUSTRALIA: I can honestly understand why some people feel aggrieved
that it hasn't happened sooner, but still, we're keeping our eye on the big prize and hopefully
that some good will come of this.

HAYDEN COOPER: The question of who's in power to deliver the referendum will ultimately fall to
voters, and today John Howard unveiled a 33-page document on building a strong, prosperous and
secure Australia with five areas for future attention, from the health system to climate change.

JOHN HOWARD: Unless you can point to a past track record of performance, those five agenda items
will sound like empty rhetoric.

KEVIN RUDD: After 11 years in office, is that best you can do?

HAYDEN COOPER: It's all adding to speculation that the campaign may finally begin on Sunday.

Hayden Cooper, Lateline.