For a government that is forever trumpeting its economic management credentials, the lack of detail attached to its indigenous incursion in the Northern Territory beggars belief.

Tony Abbott was both evasive and vague when he grilled by Laurie Oakes yesterday, and looked distinctly uncomfortable when Oakes pressed him for details, especially relating to cost for, say, the 70 medical practitioners required, which in itself is a big ticket item.

Abbott also let slip that the Commonwealth would prefer to do this nationally but messy things like constitutional arrangements would stop them from treating states the way they can treat territories.

The government seems truly shaken by the cynical reaction it has met. But there should be no surprise. In 11 years, the indigenous health issues have worsened, life expectancy lags a shameful 17 years below that of non-indigenous Australians, and infant mortality is shocking even by third world standards. On top of that there is the rate of incarceration. And it was this same government that brought in the infamous ten-point plan that sought to water down apparent gains from Mabo and Wik. So no friend of the blackfella here.

What’s it aimed at? One might have to look no further than Queensland where the Coalition’s seat tally is unnaturally bloated, Labor is doing well and on current indications looks set to take a swag of seats from the government.

One Nation might have faded from the scene, but not the underlying sentiments that launched it.

With the controversy whipped up by the Palm Island acquittal of Sergeant Chris Hurley, race issues are once again very much in the news in Queensland, and what better way for Howard to ingratiate himself with potential waverers by not sending in a helpful taskforce of social workers, teachers and psychologists, but a punitive expedition of police and soldiers.

This is playing to the grandstand in the ugliest possible way, and the Australian people are right to be wary of it. Does it, perhaps, suggest an election may be very imminent?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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