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Fed: Howard comfortable with decision not to apologise

By Kim Christian
Sun Jul 5 22:08:26 EST 2009

SYDNEY, July 5 AAP - John Howard says he is still comfortable with his decision not to apologise to the stolen generation, while defending his government's "paternalistic" indigenous policies.

In a broad ranging interview, the former prime minister declined to speak in detail about liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull's handling of the OzCar affair and said politicians should feel free to express their faith in public life.

He never doubted major decisions he made as prime minister and said he had no regrets over his handling of the stolen generation issue.

"No, I took the view that it's very easy for the current generation to apologise for mistakes of an earlier generation, and because it's so easy to do that I think it's meaningless," Mr Howard told Macquarie radio.

"I think that what really matters is what we do to close the gap.

"The report on which the request for the apology was based was not a very scientifically compiled report."

He said he "felt sorry" that indigenous Australians were unjustly taken from their families.

"But I always regarded the idea of an apology as being a piece of symbolism that couldn't possibly match genuine, practical measures."

He also denied this view had driven the Northern Territory intervention.

"It really had nothing to do with the intervention," he said.

"The intervention was based on a very strong belief I and my government had that we really needed to overturn 30 years of failed policies."

The policies of "separate development" undertaken by both liberal and labor governments had "failed completely," he said.

"If it's necessary to have some, what people would call, paternalistic measures such as prohibitions of alcohol and pornography and the quarantining of welfare payments, if it's necessary to have those things in order to protect children and to protect the lives of children you've got to do it."

Despite the Rudd government's apology he said the best hope for indigenous Australians was to give them "access to the benefits of the mainstream of our society".

"You can do that whilst respecting their place as the first Australians and respecting their traditional values."

Mr Howard was careful not to criticise embattled liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull's recent handling of the OzCar affair.

"I think he's had a difficult time and what really matters is how a man reacts or a woman reacts to adversity, and if he comes out of it with resilience and determination, which I'm sure he will, he will have learnt by the experience.

"I'm not going to be a commentator on Malcolm's performance.

"I'm a supporter of the Liberal Party. I want to see the Liberal Party prosper and succeed and I'll always do everything I can to help the leader of the party."

He confirmed he was writing a book and said he never doubted the major decisions he took while holding the nation's highest office.

"No, not the big ones, no I didn't," he said.

"It never does in politics to ruminate after you've taken a decision.

"All the big decisions I took in government, if I had my time again, I would do again. I don't regret any of the big decisions I took in government."

Mr Howard also bought into a recent religious debate, saying he did not have a problem with public policy being shaped by a politician's faith.

"Individuals who are influenced by faith and religious values ought to feel completely free to carry them forward into their public life and they should," he said.

"I don't think people in public life should be reluctant to talk about their religious values."