Nine PM, election night 1998, and John Howard is sweating it, as a massive voter backlash against GST takes Kim Beazley over the line – in aggregate votes at least – threatening to make Howard one of the great bad bets of Australian political history.

The man of steel goes to jelly, as he always does when he’s really under pressure. With the camera rolling he muses on what he should have done…. “maybe the Australian people wanted more on reconciliation…”

By a twist of fate Howard got out of that one, and went on to talk of “practical reconciliation” and give the great 2004 election night laugh …her-her her… her-her-her-her-her….

So what’s the meaning of this new push to have indigenous people recognised in an unread preamble to an unread constitution? A venipuncturist nurse once explained how you get narcan into an od’ed seasoned junkie — “just keep sticking it in until you hit something. They can’t feel it anyway.”

Indeed. While good Catholic boy Kevin Andrews trashes Matthew 25:37, playing to that gallery of anglo-outer-suburban voters in Warrandyte, Park Orchards and other parts of Menzies (and don’t tell me that gentleman would be rolling in his grave – our Sir Robert endorsed Hitler in 1938) that he hopes will be xenophobic, Howard is following a land grab with something he’s already dismissed as empty gestures. What’s going on?

What it may indicate is that – barring war, a dirty bomb in DC, or the old live-boy-or-dead-woman getout – Howard has both a) gone to pieces a la ’98 and b) given up on winning the country. New reconciliation isn’t aimed at Australia – it’s aimed at Bennelong. He doesn’t want the ultimate shame of a double lay-down misere. Holding a slice of Sydney and then resigning from it will count as a victory.

Really, there no longer is a government, just a bunch of MPs fighting for their seats, and therefore playing to quite different audiences.

By which logic Peter Costello, in doctor’s wife central of Higgins, will be discovered at 6am in Tasmania next week, chained naked to a tree and promising greater subsidies for book festivals…

Just a thought.