THE Federal Government today vowed to officially apologise to indigenous Australians as soon as possible - but the Opposition insists there are bigger fish to fry.
It was revealed today that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, having moved reconciliation to the top of his reform agenda, is racing to finalise a full-blown apology to the stolen generation in time for the opening of Parliament on February 12.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin would not commit to a date today, saying the Government was still consulting and wanted to get it right.
"We do want to make the apology as early as possible in the new parliament, but we want to complete the consultations first," she said.
"We have been consulting widely, I'm continuing to consult with representative groups of the stolen generation and once we have that right, we'll be able to move forward," she [Macklin] said, adding the Government had received legal advice on the possible legal ramifications of a formal apology.
"I think if you look at the evidence from the state governments, all of the state governments have issued formal apologies in their parliaments and there haven't been any legal ramifications as a result of those apologies," she said.
But Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson said Labor appeared to be dealing with the apology as its highest priority amid rising petrol and grocery prices and interest rate hikes, which were more immediate concerns.
Dr Nelson also said all Australians should be consulted - not just representatives of Aboriginal groups - before any apology was made.
"Whatever the attitude of Australians towards this generation apologising for things done by earlier generations, you really have got to ask yourself is this the highest priority for the Australian Parliament?" Dr Nelson said.
Dr Nelson said he personally had a "bit of concern about the idea that one generation should be held responsible for things that happened in the past".
Mr Rudd again ruled out paying compensation, despite calls for $1 billion to be paid to Aboriginal people who were removed from their families as children.
A range of other options are also being explored ahead of the opening of Parliament in a fortnight.
The local Ngunnawal people may perform a "welcome to country" on the floor of the Parliament - the first time this has been done. Another option is the role of indigenous culture to be given strong recognition during the opening ceremony.
But the biggest controversy would be if Mr Rudd formally says "sorry" on the floor of the Parliament.
In short: Saying an apology never hurt anyone, no we won't give them money, and yes, over in the corner are the narrow minded fuckers who make us look good. Please, take notes.
Everyone up to speed now?