The Howard government is getting rattled and sulky.

The increasingly shrill and precious footstamping over Kevin Rudd’s clever and determined refusal to buy the wedge over Dr Haneef is growing more audible by the day. And they’re ducking for cover all over the place.

Last night we had the strange spectacle of the usually aggressive Health Minister Tony Abbott declining to discuss key aspects of future health policy with state and territory ministers because of the “uncertainty” over the forthcoming election, effectively putting strategic planning on hold for purely political reasons.

And then on SBS’s Insight program last night we had a wide-ranging sample of Australia’s Indigenous community discussing and critically evaluating the Commonwealth’s intrusion into the Northern Territory over the child abuse report, but where was the Commonwealth?

If this was the major humanitarian exercise that the government said it was, surely the cheer squad would be out there talking it up.

Compere Jenny Brockie answered that at the end of the segment — Minister Mal Brough had been invited to appear but had declined, and had also refused to nominate a representative.

So, what are we to believe? That it’s not just another cheap and desperate political stunt like the Dr Haneef case? If it’s not then why won’t the responsible minister publicly defend it with the people most directly affected?

Trickery can get you just so far, it seems. Like 11 and a half years.