Australian PM to apologise to forced adoption victims

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will formally apologise to victims of past forced adoption practices.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, about 150,000 unwed Australian mothers had their babies removed by churches and adoption agencies.

In some cases women were tricked into signing adoption papers and physically shackled to hospital beds.

The federal government said on Wednesday it would offer a formal apology to those mothers and children on 21 March 2013 when the parliament is sitting.

"The government recognises the pain and suffering of those affected by these policies and practices," Attorney-General Nicola Roxon told AAP.

"The apology will be offered on behalf of the nation as a significant step in the healing process for those affected."

She said a reference group chaired by former Family Court Judge Nahum Mushin had provided advice to the government on the wording of the apology.

"These practices resulted in profound feelings of sadness and loss, not only for the mothers who had their children taken, but their children, fathers and countless other family members," Ms Roxon said.

The apology will include a ceremony for mothers and fathers who were forcibly separated from their children, the now adult children who were adopted, affected siblings, and extended family members.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott will also be given the opportunity to deliver a speech on the day.

The state governments of NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania have already apologised to victims.

In February, a Senate committee tabled a report after an 18-month inquiry into the Commonwealth government's involvement in past forced adoption practices, which recommended a national apology.

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