Noel Pearson’s triple-whammy last week – getting excerpts of his Griffith Review essay in three major papers – brought back some memories. About five years ago, Arena Magazine arranged to run a version of Pearson’s Charles Perkins lecture as an essay, asking that we get a first exclusive use of it, before he sold it elsewhere.

This duly granted, we set about turning the record of a lecture into a stand-alone print essay (a significant labour for an all-volunteer magazine) – only to see it, baggy and unedited, appear a week before we went to press in Quadrant.

Intentional? Accidental? Who knows, but that splash and the recent essay is vintage Pearson, striking, bold – and short on facts, and contradicting half the stuff he said five years ago, all in the service of kicking the ‘progressives’. ‘Aborigines are the lepers in the Australian political process’ Pearson argues ‘aboriginal causes are a political hard-sell’.

Well, it’s true that a lot of whites have lost interest in aboriginal politics in the last 10 years. Why? One of the reasons is that Noel Pearson told them to. In the Charles Perkins lecture and elsewhere from the late 90s on, he derided ‘left-liberals’, with their views on ‘harm minimisation’ and hoped that they would ‘take their silly ideas and go away’.

Eventually many of them did, not – or not principally – because they felt insulted, but because it seemed that they were being told fairly clearly that they were part of the problem, and aborigines needed to sort themselves out. The broad movement that had come together as Australians for Native Title in 1994-5 was dissipated, when it could have been built on. People put their energy into other causes in which they saw similar injustices and more direct desire for their help – in particular asylum seekers.

Now Pearson is blaming them for turning their backs on Australia’s indigenous people, and taking up less worthy causes:

I have watched with awe how the progressive lobby turned al-Qaeda recruit David Hicks into a relentless, irrecusable and finally triumphant national cause — from Taliban terrorist to Nelson Mandela of Guantanamo Bay.

Leaving aside the fact that Mandela was a terrorist (‘Spear of the Nation’, the ANC’s armed wing that he founded, conducted civilian bombings), everything that Pearson doesn’t understand about politics is contained within that sentence. Whatever occasional lapse into sentimentality there may have been in the Hicks campaign (‘bring David home’ was a little icky) Hicks’s supporters – eventually two-thirds of the nation – were clear-eyed about the cause, a fellow citizen abducted illegally and abandoned to a parody of legal process.

Many of them would have been in Australians For Native Title, marched across the bridge, etc. They fought, in other words, for the unjustly treated, seeing both Hicks and aborigines in that category.

Instead of watching with ‘awe’ (ie contempt), Pearson should watch and learn – learn how you build a coalition instead of scattering it, how you get a clear message across instead of zig-zagging around victimhood, racism, etc, from right to left and back again, and how you work with the people who will stick by you, whatever their faults, rather than spurning them in scorn.

Pearson’s economic strategies as applied in Cape York may yet work – but how would we know? We never hear from any other Cape Yorkers, and we never get any figures to tell us that people there are faring any better than in the Kimberleys or Yuendumu, or elsewhere. Politically, he’s played into the hands of the right for years. He’d want to get a bloody good result in terms of improved life-chances.

And why is Pearson so vehemently arguing that Hicks is a terrorist, when no-one else is? Doubtless it has nothing to do with his close connection to right-wing zionist Isi Leibler, or the fact that the firm Arnold Bloch Leibler is running internships and mentorships for young Cape Yorkers …

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