When the recent political leadership of the Anglo-European white community contained such ignoble and grisly figures as John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Tony Abbott, Alexander Downer and Kevin Andrews, it’s a bit rich to start criticising anyone from the nation’s black community.
Noel Pearson is one of Australia’s most intelligent, articulate and thoughtful Aboriginal leaders but surely it’s time he started to reflect on what he’s been saying and doing lately.
For reasons that no-one from his community can explain, Pearson decided to align himself with the Howard Government soon after Mal Brough became Aboriginal Affairs Minister. He became a cheerleader for Howard’s NT intervention and even traveled to the territory with Brough to persuade Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM, former head of the Northern Land Council and longtime land rights activist, to climb on the bandwagon.
Although deeply sceptical, Yunupingu signed up for the intervention, giving it significant prestige in the black community. Pearson railed against critics of the Howard scheme – now openly admitted by Howard, Downer and others as principally a circuit-breaking, vote-catching exercise – calling their hostility “a form of madness”.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
On the eve of the federal election, Pearson took the high moral ground with a bucketing of Kevin Rudd over Labor’s decision to abandon its pledge to amend the Constitution to recognise indigenous Australians. He accused Rudd of being a “heartless snake” who was “innately contemptuous of indigenous people” and said he dreaded the prospect of a Rudd prime ministership. Heady stuff.
During last week’s outcry over the rape of a 10-year-old girl by nine men from the far North Queensland community of Aurukun, Pearson was in full voice (on television, radio and The Australian, his paper of exclusive preference – he rarely speaks to Fairfax reporters).
While most commentators were focusing on the incomprehensible ineptitude of the criminal justice system in Queensland, Pearson didn’t pass comment on the judge in the case, the prosecutor who has subsequently been stood down, the police or the lawyers. Yet these frontline agencies bear the responsibility for dealing with crimes of this magnitude and they came up dysfunctional on this occasion.
Pearson’s focus was elsewhere: “This is a case of children in urgent need of protection. As long as Aboriginal society is so dysfunctional that we have to take children into care and protection, we should never hear people bleat about some Stolen Generation. There should be no hesitation in taking them out of those threatening circumstances and placing them with carers – whitefellas or blackfellas.” No-one will disagree with removing children from violent and s-xually predatory situations although his coupling of certain words, “bleat” and “some stolen generation”, did carry a Quadrant and Howardesque ring.
To the credit of the new Labor Government, the crisis in Aboriginal communities has been added to the agenda of the first COAG conference to be chaired by Rudd in Melbourne on Thursday. Hopefully, a new agenda of federal-state cooperation and the end of the “blame game” will begin raising the health, education, housing and employment of Aboriginal Australians.
Pearson has a critical leadership role in this process and all people of goodwill will want it to succeed. Now that his former patrons, Howard and Brough, have been given the old heave-ho by the electorate, Pearson will be recalibrating his networks to deal with Rudd, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and Anna Bligh and a new political reality.
No-one is asking him to accommodate the shifty and unproven Laborites. Just tone down the Jesse Jackson rhetoric. It was starting to sound like Al Sharpton.