Noel Pearson does not speak for us | 7th September 2009 + RELATED ARTICLES
An abridged transcript of an interview with Watson by Dave Riley

Click for larger image and descriptionFor some years now, white Australia has chosen to engage with carefully selected leaders to shape Aboriginal policy. In particular it has formed a strong association with Noel Pearson and his Cape York Leadership Institute.

But people like Pearson have no mandate. They have not been elected or appointed by their communities and do not speak on behalf of Aboriginal people.

Here in Brisbane we say emphatically that Pearson and his crew do not speak on our behalf.

We challenge Pearson to meet us and put his views forward in an open public debate.

We would have Aboriginal leaders from across those Northern Territory Aboriginal communities that have suffered under the intervention measures.

Pearson has ready access to the media and uses the Australian to push his own warped views on Aboriginal affairs.

His ideology is based on blaming the victim. He has no capacity to strip away the lies and the half truths of colonial history or assert the rights of Aboriginal people to land and country.

He expects Aboriginal people to engage with white Australia from the bottom rung of society, where we have been placed by 200 years of colonial terrorism.

He refuses to acknowledge that Aboriginal people have been dispossessed by 200 years of violent terrorism and that this is the primary cause of [problems] across the Aboriginal community.

The Australian economy was constructed by stealing Aboriginal land — that's the fundamental beginning point of the Aboriginal political struggle.

The denial of this is an enormous lie.

Yet Pearson seeks to lay all the ills within our community at our own feet. He wasn't around in the 1970s when the great struggles were launched for equal wages, equal rights, equal housing, etc.

We acknowledge that writers' festivals are all about showcasing new work and that Pearson has published a book.

Pearson puts forward his views often through the Australian, but never on public platforms where Aboriginal people can challenge him. This is what we are doing at the Brisbane Writers' Festival.

This is a work that is slanted against the genuine struggle of Aboriginal people, which panders to the extremist, racist elements within white Australia.

It is a work that should not be presented to the Brisbane Writers' Festival.

There is no difference between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former PM John Howard. As an old uncle once said, “same horse, different saddle blanket”.

If anything, Aboriginal people have suffered more under the Rudd government than they did during the 11 years of Howard.

Rudd and Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin are just as dangerous as Howard and Brough.

How Noel Pearson tried to save Howard

Paul Kelly | The Australian | September 07, 2009

With John Howard facing political oblivion in September 2007, Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson delivered him a potential re-election strategy in an unprecedented letter.

He suggested three ideas for Howard's election agenda: a referendum to deliver "recognition of indigenous people within a reconciled, indivisible nation", a referendum for an Australian republic based on an affirmation of the British heritage, and a paradigm shift from a "welfare state" to an "opportunity state".

Howard embraced the first proposal but rejected the other two. The ideas were canvassed at a meeting between the men, in two long letters sent by Pearson, and in his dialogue with the former prime minister's staff.

This means Pearson was the real architect of Howard's election pledge to hold a constitutional referendum on the recognition of the nation's indigenous people.

Pearson told Howard "your agenda for Australia" must be "astonishing (but credible) in order to make the whole electorate and the whole commentariat listen". This was because Howard's government could not "inch its way" back to office.

The Howard-Pearson story is told in the book The March of Patriots - the Struggle for Modern Australia. The book argues that it was Pearson who opened Howard's eyes to the power of the nexus between conservatism and reconciliation that the Liberal leader belatedly embraced.

Pearson told Howard his only chance of success was a "narrative for Australia that dispels the notion that the work of your public life is done".

This meant Howard had to confront the "unfinished business that will need to be dealt with by the country".

The key to Pearson's position was his belief that the Labor Party was unable to unite progressive and conservative Australia on reconciliation.

"Only you, or a leader very similar to you, can achieve reconciliation," Pearson wrote to Howard. "Labor can only prosecute a 51 per cent strategy on constitutional change. Only a highly conservative leader can prosecute a 80-90 per cent strategy that has any chance of success."

Pearson told Howard that Australia was built on two foundations: the indigenous heritage and the British heritage.

Howard was in a special position to bring them into a new long-term harmony. Pearson's advice was that Howard must astonish the nation by offering a new compact founded in conservatism: the idea of reconciliation and the idea of a republic that affirmed the British heritage.

Now it's up to Labor to deliver

Noel Pearson | The Australian | September 7th 2009

For generations, Labor looked like the party of choice and natural home for Aboriginal Australians. Proof that these old verities are under challenge, comes with the revelation of the extraordinary dialogue between Noel Pearson and John Howard before the 2007 federal election. That Mr Pearson believed only the Coalition could save Aborigines showed his desperation over the disastrous state of indigenous life at the time. The revelations in Paul Kelly's book The March of Patriots show, too, the tragedy of the lost Howard decade when the prime minister was isolated from the ideas and support of indigenous leaders still smarting over Paul Keating's demise.

Now, almost two years after Mr Howard's defeat, the Rudd government faces its own challenge of ensuring the next decade brings real improvement. That challenge is real. The government's intervention is losing momentum as Canberra struggles to deliver its side of the bargain - real progress in areas such as housing. The government has tied the success of its policies to metrics rather than the symbolism and rights agendas pursued by earlier Labor administrations. But implementation has been fraught, and Canberra has lost the support of such northern leaders as Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who wrote in The Weekend Australian that "the intervention is dead". Mr Yunupingu, like Mr Pearson, has also been underwhelmed by a proposal to set up an Aboriginal congress along lines recommended by Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma. This body is a throwback to a rights movement of the 1970s that did nothing to counter the dreadful effects of alcohol, unemployment and "sit-down" money.

Those are the issues on which Mr Pearson staked his career. His ability to reconceptualise Aboriginal issues within a framework that integrated indigenous difference and identity and broader citizenship was one of the most important exercises in our political life in the past 20 years. It is mainstream thinking today, but in the early 1990s when the young lawyer from Cape York began talking about indigenous responsibility and the perils of welfare, he cut across every policy assumption of previous decades.

Mr Pearson's 6000-word letter to Mr Howard in September 2007, and what the prime minister did with it, are not just part of history. The revelation of how far Mr Pearson was prepared to go to achieve a Coalition victory will do little to endear him to Kevin Rudd. Yet Mr Pearson's letter is as prescient as ever, both in its repudiation of a previous rights agenda that blamed dispossession for the failure of contemporary indigenous communities and its blueprint for the future.

He urged a reconciliation of "an undifferentiated national citizenship with indigenous people's rights to land, language, culture and identity". This should be based on four ideas: individual choice and human rights ahead of group rights; the need to speak English; the need for a mainstream education; and land reform that enabled economic development but preserved communal title.

Two of these - speaking English and access to education - are so obvious they should not have to be stated. Yet in remote regions, a mixture of failed delivery and misguided identity politics has left an entire generation of Aboriginal children without the skills that could give them an equal crack at a future.

This paper applauds Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin's commitment, even in the face of opposition, to change land tenure in order to promote economic development and well being. In Alice Springs, for example, her bid to take over town camp leases has been obstructed by people more interested in symbols than decent living conditions. Others, such as Mr Yunupingu, who initially strongly supported the intervention as a way to change people's lives, are disillusioned. He argues that people in remote areas who buckled down to repressive parts of the intervention have received nothing in return while public servants and urban Aborigines who are part of the Aboriginal "industry" revert to "business as usual".

It took a Coalition government to recognise the balance between individual rights and responsibilities and to launch the 2007 intervention. Now a Labor government is being challenged by people once seen as its natural allies. The Prime Minister and Ms Macklin's embrace of metrics rather than symbols is a real step forward for Labor. But if they are to deliver, they must listen to leaders on the ground and be prepared to adjust further an intervention that must not be allowed to fail indigenous Australia.

The views in the 'News' articles on this site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Treaty Republic