Noel Pearson has caused heartache
on the left with his attacks on passive welfare, calls for grog bans
and his emphasis on a practical problem-solving rather than a rights
agenda.

Hence the conservative embrace of Pearson, and
flattering references to him from Howard Government supporting pundits
on the right, and the editorial page of The Australian. This
morning Pearson shows why he has one of the best political brains in
the country – he couldn’t give a fig for left or right, it is what
works that matters.

Pearson has two columns in two papers. Both
give conservatives a Politics 101 lecture in Conservatism, and one of
them lands potentially knock-out punches on two conservative agitators.

Pearson in The Australianattacks
the Howard Government’s move to strip local community councils and
organisations of their roles in running indigenous work-for-the-dole
programs, describing it as utter madness that has its roots in an
over-weening faith in big government (most un-conservative).

But it is Pearson in The Age
that makes life really uncomfortable to some of those who made him
their new best political friend. Pearson points to areas agreement with
conservatives, but slams their support for Keith Windschuttle (history
didn’t happen unless the colonists wrote it down) and assimilationist
Gary Johns (Aboriginal culture should not be taught in schools) – from
a conservative perspective – and says: “The coldness that characterises
Johns and Windschuttle is an inexplicable antagonism to Aboriginal
Australians’ wish to remain distinct.”

Interestingly, Windschuttle and Johns have run their agendas courtesy of the opinion page of The Australian, a space where Pearson has made regular appearances. Did Pearson offered both opinion pieces to both papers, and The Oz
declined to take up the Windschuttle and Johns demolition? It will be
interesting to watch the coverage of Indigenous issues on that page in
future.

As to Pearson’s intellectual journey, which
conservatives seemed to have forgotten, its public manifestation began
at The Brisbane Institute then under Labor activist (among many other
talents) Professor Peter Botsman – an early champion in Australia of
“third way” politics and championed the notion of “social
entrepreneurship”, which heavily influenced Pearson’s thinking about
private partnerships on Cape York. Andrew Mawson and Derek Shearer spoke there is 2001, as did Pearson, twice.

One of those Pearson appearances was a joint presentation with Mark Latham, then just an ambitious backbencher. Pearson had earlier launched “The Enabling State”, a book co-edited by Latham and Botsman.

Peter Fray

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