Six months spent sniping at real and perceived character weaknesses of Kevin Rudd have not ended the new Labor Leader’s honeymoon. A popular budget with tax and other handouts for all, while still maintaining the reputation for fiscal rectitude, has come and gone with the opinion polls hardly bouncing.

Labor policies on education and broadband have been stolen and an industrial relations policy seen as being unfair has been attended to and still a crushing defeat appears to be looming.

For a Prime Minister these are difficult times so when all else appears to be failing, a concentration on actually running the country might not be a bad idea.

John Howard this week chose to put crass election campaigning on hold and for something completely different and embarked on a demonstration to show that it is incumbents who really do things while oppositions merely talk about them.

With one short press conference he removed discussion of things like the misuse of official residences for Liberal Party fund-raising from the radio and television news. Dirt units and dirty tricks involving Liberal pollsters and anti-Labor advertising campaigns were relegated from the newspaper headlines. Now the news is about a Prime Minister who is actually dealing with a serious problem.

The report commissioned by the Northern Territory government into the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children could not have been released at a better time for the Federal Government.

If not exactly a motherhood issue, then the sad plight of indigenous children revealed in the report was the next best thing. Because power has only been lent to the NT Government not actually granted, there were no impediments to the Commonwealth marching in to take control. Only swift amendments to the legislation granting self government to the Territory and land rights to traditional Aboriginal owners will be necessary and they are a formality given the numbers in the Senate.

At his initial press conference, in the Parliament shortly afterwards and on various television and radio programs since, Mr Howard was the very model of a serious and concerned Prime Minister. He looked and sounded like a man who really believes that it is duty to solve the problems of Aboriginal disadvantage that two centuries of white rulers before him have found insoluble. Yet it is the very lack of detail in the plans he announced that creates the impression that his current electoral situation was a major factor in his decision to act so decisively.

Consider for a start the problem of excessive alcohol consumption which the NT report identified as being at the heart of the social problems. Mr Howard’s regime will ban it in areas identified in the report as suffering from it. But there was no announcement of the means by which Aboriginal alcoholics deprived of drink on their home lands will be prevented from moving to areas like Darwin and Alice Springs where alcohol will still be available.

True it is that non-drinkers left behind will have a better and safer life, but will not the problem drinkers and their associated violence simply be transferred from one region to another, and, in fact, be made worse because the displaced alcoholics will be deprived of even the inadequate shelter they receive when drinking in their own homes?

Examining all vulnerable Aboriginal children for evidence of sexual abuse might be a good idea but dealing with children found to have been molested will be no easy thing. If an alcoholic mum and dad run off to Darwin will they be allowed to take their children with them or are we to have a new version of the stolen generation?

Making welfare payments conditional on children being sent to school also has a convincing ring about it, but how will children be looked after if their parents are denied welfare payments. A stolen generation again, sent off to foster homes or institutions?

It is problems like these that Mr Howard and his government will have to grapple with in the months ahead, and they will not be easy problems to solve. That is why they persist despite the billions of dollars spent on Aboriginal affairs by Federal and State governments for 100 years.

But then, a final solution may not be what Mr Howard thinks he needs. His advantage from this issue will come from looking Prime Ministerial for the next six months. Some other leader than he will be in charge when the judgment is made years from now on whether the initiatives of 2007 really worked or whether they amounted to nothing more than another lot of white man’s words.