Only a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party could now argue that the ’emergency intervention’ was anything but a political stunt. But if you still have your doubts, take a gander at the legislation that has sprung from it (read the full bills here and here).

The 500-odd pages were dropped in the ALP’s lap, with less than 24 hours available for scrutiny of the three bills before they’re debated in parliament today.

Yesterday, News Limited papers broke news of a leaked report by Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor, warning that ‘Honest John’ was now perceived as ‘Old Dishonest John’. Textor had some advice.

The government needed to seize the agenda from the ALP and, according to press gallery scribe Malcolm Farr, it also needed to “emphasise that the Commonwealth was bailing out ineffective and inefficient states”. Textor’s report was delivered on June 21. Has no-one yet noticed that the federal government’s ”emergency intervention” in the Northern Territory was announced on the afternoon of … you guessed it, June 21?

If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear the Howard government had created legislation that was so insane it could only be designed to secure a wedge to take to the next election.

My personal favourite is the proposed law which would enable the government to appoint an “observer” to attend any meeting of any organisation that provides services within any of the 73 NT Aboriginal communities that are being seized by the government. In other words, every meeting of every Aboriginal organisation. In the old days, we used to call that ”observer” a ”mission manager”. And what a success they were!

Then there’s the legislation that will see the creation of a register to record the ”name, hour and date” every time someone uses a publicly-funded computer. Crazy, crazy stuff.

And what about the bill that proposes Aboriginal welfare recipients within the 73 communities automatically have 50% of their welfare payments quarantined, no matter how they’ve spent their money in the past? So much for the ”we don’t use a one size fits all” mantra.

This whole episode has descended into high farce. It could only occur in an election year. There are only two possible explanations for legislation this extreme.

The first is that Mal and John have genuinely gone stark raving bonkers. The second possibility – and the one I favour — is that Howard and Brough have set out to deliberately create legislation that’s so extreme, even the ALP couldn’t possibly support it.

Rudd was supposed to hedge, and Howard would get his wedge.

But it didn’t work out that way, and while it may seem extraordinary that the ALP could even contemplate supporting such insane legislation, going on Kevin Rudd’s past form it’s not surprising. The man wants to win office.

The coalition are now wedgeless and no matter who wins government this year, we’re stuck with ridiculous, half baked legislation for years to come.

It’s some consolation that Labor will move some amendments, including changes to the racial discrimination act, and provisions and changes to the permit system, but ultimately Labor has again failed Aboriginal Australia.

Whoever wins power later this year, it’s irrelevant to Aboriginal people. Governments can legislate, but Aboriginal people will not assimilate. This sort of legislation was tried in the early 1900s and failed abysmally, these bills will do the same.

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Peter Fray

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