It’s only one week into the national emergency, so it’s a distance from the Prime Minister declaring “mission accomplished”. Not that it can be too far away before he does, in what has thus far limited itself to a desert campaign a long way from Mesopotamia, and against an unarmed and friendly populace.

Just wait for the announcement that the “intervention and stabilisation” part of the campaign has been a success.

But it’s disappointing that Howard’s troop leader and ex-army officer, Malcolm Brough, seems reluctant to lead from the front, let alone visit on a tour of inspection. He seems to prefer his native Queensland or Canberra HQ. It’s probably unfair to suggest he’s holding a pistol at the back of Norforce soldiers “pour l’encourager les autres”, but he’s steering well clear of the front line.

This Wednesday sees a ministerial council comprising Federal, state and territory housing ministers. Brough has declined to attend. Surprising? Perhaps not.

Quite apart from his bovver boy approach to even countenancing long term Territory housing needs — a jurisdiction in which vulnerable Aboriginal kids share households with 16+ people — he is avoiding another skirmish.

The main agenda item for the nation’s housing ministers is the renegotiation of the CSHA — the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement. Even under Labor, such deals have been a major battle-ground between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. The intransigence has mounted in recent years under Coalition rule. At its heart, the Howard government is deeply unhappy with the whole notion of what is known as “social housing”, and that such a thing should be sponsored. It instead prefers subsidising the private housing sector through the Commonwealth Rental Assistance scheme.

Which is a bit rough on those living out bush, where the private housing rental market is nonexistent — indeed, in a housing marketplace where the chance of renting a McMansion pretty well defines the term “remote”.

Who knows what Brough’s refusal to attend the ministerial council means to other state and territory housing ministers, but it must be seen as a slight to NT minister Elliot McAdam, who knows a bit more than most ministers about housing conditions.

An unassuming bloke — he refused to take the ministerial title of “the Honourable” — McAdam was born in a corrugated iron hut at the side of what was then the dirt track of the Stuart Highway, at a town called Elliott, half way between Alice Springs and Darwin. He has worked for Aboriginal housing organisations in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek,  now his home town. His electorate of Barkly manages to have some of the poorest people in the nation, largely Aboriginal people living in conditions best described as Third World.

On Wednesday night McAdam is due to host a dinner in Darwin for his housing ministerial colleagues. One dinner setting will be empty.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off