"I'm taking control", said Johnny Howard, with a contrived quiver of righteousness in his voice. His face was set into a familiar pastiche of horror and disgust at the degraded behaviour of lesser beings. He also conveyed a weariness — the weariness of shouldering the "white man's burden".
We've been here before. Remember the fake children overboard incident? Howard's message then was: how subhuman of those refugees to throw their own children overboard just so they could jump the immigration queue and flood our "cultured and civilised" Australia.
Then, as now, an authoritarian "emergency" solution was presented as necessary, and a lily livered Labor opposition rushed into the shoulder-to-shoulder position.
Will Howard's replay of this card work?
Will enough people be fooled into thinking he really cares about Aboriginal children, even after he's dismissed the many appeals by Aboriginal leaders, health and aid bodies for urgent action to address the Indigenous health crisis?
He's dismissed those who have been pointing to the shameful fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders die 17 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality is three times that of non-Indigenous Australians. He's dismissed the modest appeal by Oxfam and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation for spending on Aboriginal health to be increased by a mere $450 million a year.
Howard sheds crocodile tears, but how many Indigenous kids have died as a result of the Howard government's criminal inhumanity since 1996? How many children have been abused and neglected because entire communities have been left in squalor and hopelessness?
How many would have been saved if there was a real program of positive discrimination for Indigenous people in education and employment? If there was a real Indigenous job creation campaign? How many Indigenous people have died in police and prison custody because of the failure to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody?
It's convenient for Howard and the tough-love-sloganeering Noel Pearson to blame everything on the welfare system when it is the absence of any system to actually end the racist oppression, economic marginalisation and poverty of Indigenous communities that is the cause of these problems.
Welfare has never been able to do anything but patch and band-aid, and cannot be expected to address the real issues.
Howard's grand solution is to send 60 cops to the Northern Territory's remote Aboriginal settlements to end child sex abuse by banning their access to alcohol and pornography, controlling the spending of welfare benefits and thereby by forcing the kids to go to school.
What is the real record of authoritarian and paternalistic regimes and child abuse? How many commissions of inquiry into that story of institutional abuse have been buried and forgotten?
Howard's headline-grabbing, prejudice-tapping "emergency program" is not designed to address any real social problem. It's simply a way to press the racist button in the coming federal elections. It is the Tampa for the 2007 election.
Indigenous Australians are the football in this cynical political game — they are in for a mighty kicking if there is no resistance from those who know what is really going on.