It’s Groundhog Day again in indigenous affairs. The “Aborigine problem” has been re-listed for another chat at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting. I think I speak on behalf of all movie-goers when I say, “Sylvester Stallone should have stopped at Rocky II.”

Indigenous affairs has been listed, scheduled, planned, raised, slated and lined up for COAG so many times in the past that there’s a genuine risk that intervening in the lives of Aboriginal people might become politically unfashionable.

It was COAG, let’s not forget, which in 2001 came up with the idea for the “COAG trials”, a “quiet revolution” and a “bold experiment”, to quote former indigenous affairs minister Amanda Vanstone, which would “slash red tape” and markedly improve the lives of Aboriginal people. With the abolition of ATSIC, the COAG trials became the “all your eggs in one basket” policy for the “mainstreamed” delivery of government services to Aboriginal people.

Earlier this year, the COAG trials were quietly abandoned after scathing government reviews revealed the whole process to be a great, big farce. Red tape in the Wadeye community, for example, had in fact almost doubled in the life of the trial and the construction of housing supposedly a “core focus” saw the construction of just five homes in four years, while more than a dozen became uninhabitable (and the population increased).

And yet, just a few days ago, The Australian newspaper reported on its front page that the raising of Indigenous issues at COAG again was some kind of progress. Granted, this is the same newspaper which claimed three new dawns for Aboriginal people in four years (plus at least one new accord and at least six new deals). It was former Crikey editor, Misha Ketchell who termed the phrase “fishbowl journalism” to describe the mainstream media’s reporting of Indigenous affairs. How right he was.

The sad fact is, COAG is to Aboriginal people what t-ts are to a bull – useless. Kevin Rudd needs to walk straight into the COAG meeting and say something like: “I’m taking indigenous affairs off the lot of you, and Paul Lennon, your moustache looks ridiculous, for God’s sake man, shave it off.” Or words to that effect.

The rest of the debate such as how the Commonwealth manages an orderly transfer of powers can come later. Because what Rudd must understand by now is that on matters of Indigenous affairs, we just keep getting it wrong, year after year, decade after decade.

If you have a problem and you keep coming up with the same solution, and that’s exactly what Australia’s been doing for 100 years, then you can’t really be surprised when things don’t improve. And on that front, Kevin in 07 might like to turn his attention to the world stage. Despite having the worst record in the first world, Australia (and in particular The Australian) is very fond of lecturing all and sundry about “what’s best for the blacks”.

Meanwhile, Canada, the US and New Zealand continue to make headway, in PRESICELY the opposite direction. These countries are not without their tensions, but they are without trachoma and a population whose life expectancy is less than 50 years in many regions.

These countries have elected Aboriginal leaders. Australia has the National Indigenous Council. These countries have treaties. Australia does not. These countries have compensated their people for loss of land, children and wages. Australia says “it’s not about the money”. Exactly which part of “the other guys got it right” are we having trouble understanding?

Australia has a huge amount of growing up to do on this issue and Kevin Rudd needs to walk into COAG and start smacking a few state and territory bottoms.

Thus far, he’s made some very encouraging noises on all things indigenous affairs. He has a once-in-a-generation chance to start putting things in place to finally make a difference.