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Sunday, November 30, 1997 Published at 22:24 GMT


TV appeal stirs Aborigine land row
image: [ John Howard:
John Howard: "Where land is in dispute, the rights of farmers will prevail."

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has made an appeal on national television for support for government attempts to restrict Aborigine land rights.

The government wants to reduce Aborigine claims on land that is now used for farming and mining. It is proposing to reverse a High Court ruling that upheld ancient Aboriginal rights to thousands of acres of land.

Compensation is being offered to the Aborigines, but one Aboriginal group has warned that race relations in Australia could suffer for generations to come without further negotiations.

The proposed amendments to the law are provoking heated and bitter debate in the Senate, the upper house of the Australian parliament.

Some government members say that unless the bill is passed, Aborigines will lay claim to residential suburbs in the cities.

Opposition members say this is cynical and divisive nonsense. A prominent Aboriginal leader accused the government of behaving like "racist scum".

Mr Howard said that as the law stands, Aborigines can claim ownership of 79% of all the land in Australia - most of it used for farming or mining.

He said he wanted a fair and decent balance between Aboriginal rights and those of farmers and mining firms who have leased land from the government.

He hopes to reduce the rights of Aborigines to claim equal ownership and so prevent them interfering with the operations of farmers and miners.

Where necessary, the government will pay compensation to Aborigines.

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