District court judge Sarah Bradley gave the nine no jail time, and did not record convictions against six of the attackers saying the girl "was not forced and she probably agreed to have sex" with them.

 

The verdict has been met with a storm of protest, with politicians and Aboriginal community leaders saying the law was failing to protect children.

 

Child advocates have demanded Bradley's resignation, but she has said the sentences were requested by prosecutors and were appropriate.

 

On Wednesday, Australia's newly-elected federal government said it was considering a response to the case, including possibly expanding a controversial programme already under way in the Northern Territory to intervene in remote Aboriginal communities.

 

The country's Aboriginal affairs minister, said she would speak to the state premier of Queensland, where the rape occurred, about combating rampant child sex abuse.

 

"What I want to do is really look at what the federal government can do, working with the Queensland government, to address the shocking levels of child abuse that unfortunately are continuing in so many parts of Queensland," Macklin said.

 

The federal government's intervention programme launched earlier this year came after an official investigation concluded child sex abuse was rife in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory - but also probably across the country - because of neglect and the effects of alcohol

 

The intervention involved boosting police numbers, banning alcohol and pornography and tying welfare payments to schooling and buying food.

 

But the federal response is legally limited to the Northern Territory, and expanding the programme would require the co-operation of state governments.

 

The Queensland state government is meanwhile appealing the sentences and says several welfare officials connected to the case have been suspended.

 

The case has cast a shadow over talks between the newly-installed government of Kevin Rudd and Aboriginal elders on an apology to Aborigines for past injustices.

 

The first consultations on the drafting of the apology took place late on Tuesday.

 

Rudd has promised a formal apology to Australia's Aborigines for injustices since European settlement, something former leader John Howard refused to do because he said it could open the door to expensive compensation claims.

 

Jenny Macklin, the Aboriginal affairs minister, said practical steps to improve health and education for Aboriginal children would underscore an apology more than compensation.