The state of our Indigenous communities
dominated Question Time yesterday – though Jack Waterford has done a better job
defining the problem in a few pars in The Canberra Times today than our pollies did in an hour and a bit:

There’s no real work, or prospect of any, the health and education
system is a shambles, housing is appalling, and the cost of delivering services
is phenomenal. The communities are artificial anyway, composed of different and
antagonistic groups, and there is a lot of drunkenness, fighting, domestic
violence, trauma, suicide, imprisonment, apathy and despair.

They may be
within their own traditional lands, but there is little evidence even of
sustained cultural, let alone, economic use of that proximity, and even less
evidence that it is producing life, liberty, happiness and good health.

The question of
why such hellholes are sustained is a quite legitimate one. It has long been
asked by critics of the past 40 years of failed policies. It is increasingly
being asked by others…

Good question. What’s the Government’s
answer? How’s this happened? What are they going to do about it?

Well, Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal
Brough gave another lengthy response to a dixer, then went on the 7:30 Report talking
tough about how Aboriginal offenders
should not be able to use customary law to obtain softer sentences and saying
Australian law should apply equally to all Australians.

But there’s a proper parliamentary
instrument for this. It’s called the Ministerial Statement. And it’s fallen
into misuse.

It’s simple enough. Page 254 of House of
Representatives Practice
explains how it works:

By leave of the
House Ministers may make statements concerning government policy or other
matters for which they have ministerial responsibility.

House of Representatives Practice probably
also explains why we don’t get Ministerials any more.

Brough might be a relatively new Minister –
but after ten years in power it’s not as if the Government can duck responsibility.
Yet we have a Government that deliberately confuses policy initiatives with
actions, that prefers announcements to solutions.

We no longer have Ministerial Statements
because we no longer have ministerial responsibility. And we’re seeing the suffering this can