(AFP) - The Australian government on Monday rejected Aboriginal demands for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for the "stolen generation" of indigenous children taken from their parents.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has pledged to apologise to Aborigines for the disastrous policy, something his predecessor John Howard refused to do during his 11 years in power before being ousted in November elections.
But Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin Monday ruled out backing the apology with the establishment of a compensation fund of a billion dollars (870 million US), as demanded by some Aboriginal leaders.
"What we will be doing is putting the funding into health and education services, and providing additional support for services needed for counselling, to enable people to find their relatives," she told national radio.
"So we won't be creating a compensation fund."
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre legal director Michael Mansell had called on the government to establish a billion dollar fund to give to some 13,000 Aborigines taken from their parents as children over four decades up to the 1970s.
The children were put into institutions or foster care with white families as part of an attempt to force assimilation, and some of them never saw their families again.
"The prime minister is going to stand up in front of the world and say that on behalf of the nation we are genuinely sorry that this happened," Mansell said.
"If he then walks away and says but I'm not going to compensate you, it would give a hollow ring to the words he would be using."
Stolen Generations Victoria chairwoman Lyn Austin backed the establishment of such a fund.
"People get paid crimes compensation for victims of crime," she said. "You are looking at the gross violation and the act of genocide and all the inhuman things that have happened to our people."
Australia's original inhabitants were marginalised after the first British settlers arrived in 1788 and now number just 470,000 out of a population of 21 million, with many living in impoverished outback camps.