Australia will issue its first formal apology for past mistreatment to the country's Aboriginal people early next month. The new Labor government says the move will be an important milestone in Australia's race relations. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be the first act of the new government when the Australian parliament reopens in Canberra on February 13. The comments will acknowledge injustices suffered by Aborigines in the years after European colonization began in the late 1700's.

The apology will include a reference to the so-called "Stolen Generations." These were young Aborigines taken forcibly from their families by the authorities and placed in foster homes. It was an official attempt to dilute indigenous culture, and the practice persisted from 1910 until the 1970's. One-hundred thousand children were affected.

Members of the "Stolen Generations" have said that being taken from their families amounted to kidnap, from which they suffered great trauma.

Senior officials say the apology will not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people, nor will it offer compensation.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says the time is right to say sorry.

"The new government is committed to a formal apology to the Stolen Generations, and I've been consulting widely about the nature of the apology," she said. "We do see this as a very, very important issue for the new government. We want to get it right, we want to do it respectfully."

Aboriginal leaders have said they would welcome a formal apology as a start toward healing the wounds of the past.

Australia's Aborigines make up about two percent of the population of 21 million. They suffer disadvantages at almost every turn, and endure disproportionately high rates of ill-health, unemployment and imprisonment.

Australia's new government has said Aboriginal health and welfare is a priority, and the government is considering programs to close the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, which currently stands at about 17 years.