The federal government will make a formal apology to parents and children separated by forced adoption.
Between the 1950s and 1970s, about 150,000 unwed mothers had their babies taken against their will by churches and adoption agencies.
A national apology was one of the recommendations made by the Senate community affairs committee following an inquiry on forced adoption practices which concluded in February.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon will today announce the establishment of a reference group to advise the government on the timing and nature of the apology.
Ms Roxon said the apology would be delivered on behalf of the nation and would be a ''significant step in the healing process for those affected''.
''The government recognises the pain and suffering of parents whose children were forcibly removed, and children separated from their parents,'' she said. Ms Roxon said the reference group would include birth parents and adoptees affected by forced adoption and would be chaired by Nahum Mushin, a former Family Court judge and adjunct professor of law at Monash University.
The convener of the Apology Alliance, Christine Cole, which represents people affected by forced adoption, said last night she was ''extremely pleased'' to learn of the apology. Ms Cole, who has been campaigning for an apology for almost 20 years, had her daughter taken from her immediately after giving birth as a 16-year-old at Crown Street Women's Hospital in Sydney in 1969. They were not reunited until 18 years later.
''I know many, many women will be absolutely thrilled because they didn't expect to see this happening in their lifetime,'' she said. ''It will be of great healing to them to have the government acknowledge that it was through their policies … that this was allowed to happen. It will be a great relief.''
The Senate community affairs committee argued the Commonwealth should apologise partly because its denial of social security benefits to unmarried women increased pressure on single women to have their children adopted.
''It was a national phenomenon, and calls for a national response,'' the committee wrote.
The West Australian government apologised for its role in forced adoptions in 2010, and the South Australian government will apologise next month. The Catholic Church and Uniting Church and Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital have also apologised.
Social Affairs Correspondent
Dan Harrison