Australia passes indigenous recognition bill
Australia's lower house has unanimously passed a bill recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples as the country's first inhabitants.
The move came on the fifth anniversary of the historic apology to indigenous Australians for past injustices.
It is seen as a interim move before a referendum is held to include the recognition in the constitution.
The plebiscite was meant to take place this year but had been postponed by the government to build up support.
Indigenous Australians watching from the public galleries met the passage of the bill, which enjoyed bipartisan support, with applause.
"I do believe the community is willing to embrace the justice of this campaign because Australians understand that indigenous culture and history are a source of pride for us all," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.
"This bill seeks to foster momentum for a referendum for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."
She said that a review will be held to gauge public support for a referendum, which is needed to make any change to the constitution in Australia.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott said that constitutional recognition for the indigenous peoples was long overdue.
"We need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears, to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people," he said.
In 2008, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised to the indigenous population for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss".
In his apology, he singled out the "stolen generations" of thousands of children forcibly removed from their families.