Dec 6, 2017

Rundle: reflecting on Noel Pearson’s dual failure

A recent essay by Noel Pearson has a great deal of self-excoriation, but fails to find the true problems that led him there.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


So, in the end, we were, in fact, to blame ... It is always the stronger one who is to blame.

-- Dag Hammarskold, Markka

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52 thoughts on “Rundle: reflecting on Noel Pearson’s dual failure

  1. susan winstanley

    excellent, my thoughts exactly

  2. tomtom

    The commodification of disadvantage wit large in the utter failure to Close the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage is at the heart of Pearson’s elevation.

  3. John Newton

    OK Guy Rundle, enough’s enough. I’ve read you, laughed with you, approved of your excoriation of the appalling idiots in the corridors of power. But now, you’ve gone too far.

    You’ve kicked a great man when he’s down. By his own admission, Noel Pearson spent 17 years backing the wrong horses. He took a calculated risk, was vilified from the left and now it would appear patronised from the right, by those he thought he could trust to do the right thing when the time came.

    And they pissed in him. On receiving the gentle request of The Uluru Statement From The Heart, the request for a Voice in how they were to be treated by the whitefella’s parliament, what was the response?

    The Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion, said that this Voice, central to the Referendum Council’s submission to Parliament, an external body to advise on legislation affecting Indigenous Australians, was “neither desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum.” Neither desirable or capable.

    And the prime minister’s response? “This is not what was asked for or expected.” In that essay in The Monthly, Noel Pearson writes that Turnbull ‘appears incapable of understanding that he simply cannot say such words. He established an independent council to provide a report making recommendations for constitutional reform, then he complains that this was not what he expected or asked for?’

    So where was your criticism of these gutless bastards (and where was Shorten when this happened, this, yes this betrayal?)

    So, Guy, who have you been fighting for for 17 years? Were you fighting for your people who were being thrown in gaol, dying in custody, taken away from the families, drowning in alcohol and drugs on neglected remote communities? No, oh, sorry, I forgot, your people are the ones who are the lucky recipients of white advantage. Through no effort on their part. Just the lottery of pigment.
    There were so many ways you could have responded to Pearson’s self-admitted failure. You chose scorn. You chose to sneer, to kick him, to pick over the scabs of past wounds.

    Shame on you. Shame on you using your considerable skills in this way.

    Noel Pearson will be remembered as a great fighter for his people. How will you be remembered?

    1. Draco Houston

      Yeah Guy, where is YOUR giant trail of failures stretching across decades?

      1. Richard Smith

        Demonstrate one — just one — remote Indigenous school program that is as integrated, comprehensive, rational with demonstrated, independently established positive academic outcomes as Pearson’s? I include decades of state education in this challenge. I’m waiting.

        1. AR

          I’m impressed. Could you give a reference?
          Or provide a link, as the kiddies sez.

          1. John Newton

            AR, I’m sorry, i don’t understnad. A link to what?”

        2. John Newton

          Richard, I can;t do that, and it has nothing to do with Rundle’s story or the Pearson story that prompted it. Pearson was speaking only about one particular betrayal, the last in a series over 230 years that has led us to the present day.

          I’m not qualified to comment on education, maybe someobdy here is.

          1. AR

            John – a link to your assertion of spiffing results in the skool syllabus – amerikan tick box (and wildly culturally inappropriate one might have thought) roneod sheets.

    2. Guy Rundle

      That’s exactly the sort of self-defeating idolatry I’m talking about. As I said, plenty of people, plenty of them indigenous, were making the criticisms of Pearson’s strategy that he now makes himself. They were in the same struggle – simply less celebrated. Pearson’s essay itself is an invitation to better analysis – not to use him as a figure for liberal white emotional needs.

      1. John Newton

        Idolatry? Hardly Guy. Just yesterday I was talking with blackfella friend about Pearson. He didn’t always agree with him, but the standout for him and me was the way in which the Voice was dismissed by these two self serving …I’m looking for a word, let’s just say politicians, that’s enough of an insult.
        I know Pearson was not the most popular man among some in the Indigenous leadership, and I know there was grumbling about The Statement From The Heart. But let’s go back to Turnbull’s dismissal of it: “This is not what was asked for or expected.”
        Politics and personalities aside, that was a totally unacceptable response from a totally unacceptable human being.

        1. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

          I understood Rundle’s essay to be a critique of Pearson’s The Monthly essay – so went there to look at what Pearson actually wrote. Aside from the quotes used in Guy’s essay and in others’ comments here, I found this one from Pearson curious:
          “When faced with the question of whether we predicate our struggle on the political right finding compassion or the political left finding its brains – I now know the answer. The left have an altruism the right will never muster. Every progress we make will have to be fought for, and every battle will be partisan. Bipartisanship is dead.”
          Pearson is, or was until he realised the pointlessness of his quest, on a mission to find compassion and altruism in an Australian body politic when all that is on offer is pragmatism Keating-style. The question is, could the Uluru “package” have been delivered by a better storyteller, one seeking neither “brains”, compassion or altruism (an elitist approach if ever there was one) but instead putting a proposition directly to the Australian public. We know it wasn’t a third house of parliament being proposed so why talk to those inside the tent about what might happen in the space outside the tent? Why not take a mandate from fellow Australians TO the parliament rather than trying to cut a quickie deal with a couple of cabinet members there? Sadly, it looks like if Pearson couldn’t get there, no one can. Rundle argues that Pearson wasn’t up to the task. Pearson appears to agree with him.

          1. John Newton

            Once again, the point is being missed. Pearson was not the deliverer, but only one of the team who wrote the Statement.
            And none of the correspondents here seem to give a stuff about the arrogant dismissal of the request with no request for a way forward. It has hardly been mentioned since. We’ve been too busy deciding who is Australian to bother with the only group in the country who don’t need to prove their right to citizenship. We whitefellas are all from somewhere else.
            I am disappointed in the Crikey readership, all too willing to put the boot into Pearson (and as you note Hugh he does that himself) but not into the snivelling gutless white supremacists who run this country .

          2. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

            John, you wrote (below – there’s something odd with the ‘reply’ format) that Pearson was “not the deliverer”. Yet in the “Betrayal” article Pearson wrote:
            “On Thursday morning I sent a text to Turnbull: “PM, I’ve seen the Courier-Mail report on cabinet’s rejection of the Referendum Council’s recommendation. Would be good if we could talk soon as.”
            I received no response.”
            It’s pretty clear that Pearson was the ‘deliverer’ and he wasn’t getting anywhere. He found, as so many others have found with our legless PM, that if the path is not freshly brushed clean and clear, Turnbull won’t be going there, regardless what what was said or promised years, weeks or even minutes ago.

          3. John Newton

            Charlie re delivery, from the Antar website:

            On the morning of 14 February 2017, Jackie Huggins Co-Chair of National Congress for Australia’s First Peoples handed Prime Minister Turnbull a Coolamon holding the Redfern Statement. In doing so, on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, she called for:
            “A new relationship that respects and harnesses [our] expertise, and recognises our right to be involved in decisions being made about us”.
            She appealed to the government to: “Draw on our collective expertise, our deep understanding of our communities, and lifetimes of experience working with our people.”
            She made clear to the Prime Minister that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the solutions and that it’s time Australian governments listen and genuinely engage with Australia’s First People.

          4. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

            OK, I’m not so concerned about the technicality of who actually handed over the document. The fact appears to be that Pearson saw his own role as guiding the document through the process. He was the facilitator, the one that had received the nod from Turnbull (two years before) and felt that he had the ear of the PM. Pearson didn’t stand back and let others do the negotiating, no, he took to the phone himself – although there was no one on the other end of the line.

          5. John Newton

            And that, Charlie, going back to Rundle’s story, is what he missed.

        2. AR

          Hmm, ‘human being’? I tend to think of him as Gore Vidal described Al Gore (a distant relative), ‘a human shaped object’.

          1. AR

            This was re JohnNewton’s last sentence on Dec 6th, at 3.15pm.
            {{I’m curious as to the tekky reason some replies to replies sometimes omit the REPLY option.}}

          2. AR

            ooohh, just like mine above. Must be a numbers thang.

  4. brian crooks

    when noel pearson hopped into bed with howard and the coalition, he sold his soul to the devil, when you share a bed with howard you get kicked out when your usefulness runs out, just ask meg lees, so now pearson is scorned by the libs and not trusted by labor, pauline hanson will be the next LNP bedfellow to suffer the boot, her usefulness expired in queensland when she took votes from the LNP and not labor so its only a matter of time till she joins pearson in la a land, where the the not needed, not wanted and not trusted always finish up., they should study the political history of the australian democrats, its too late for them but its a lesson others should learn.

  5. Draco Houston

    That essay was such a howler, he kept talking about ‘radical centre’ (is that where the local Hot Topic is located?). The kicker came when he tried on this line:
    “Without the radical centre, bipartisanship is just the lowest common denominator. The radical centre is the sweet spot between realism and idealism, the real meaning behind the truism that politics is the art of the possible.”

    What does this man know about what is possible? It brings to mind ‘only the impotent are pure’, spoken by the only prime minister of this country to be brought down by an actual Coup d’état.

  6. klewso

    Too eager the volunteer gull …… Tony woulda dunnet.

  7. Janelle Saffin

    If Noel failed, it was his misread of Australian politics. My reflections on Noel’s political interventions, were, “well the right are not quite that”; “well the left are not quite that”. Noel has not failed on constitutional recognition; politics has failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  8. Paul

    I think this is the first serious article on Pearson’s essay, thank you.

    I have never been a fan of his, far from it. His reasoning has always, in my opinion, been colored by ideological zealotry. Having said that I will always feel sorry for anyone who has, with I believe sincerity, attempted to work with the others to help his people. I have always disagreed with what he was trying to achieve and the structure he wanted to achieve it. I feel sorry because he is flawed and is an innocent, innocent because he believed the pious words of charlatans and hypocrites.

    His distress must be similar to that of the many people in the UK who thought Brexit would make their lives better, that the NHS would get £350M per week and that all the industries subsidized by the EU would continue to get the same level of support. Their belief was stupid and naive in the same way that Pearson’s was.

    So for people like Pearson the message must be “never trust a Tory”.

  9. Woopwoop

    So leaving personalities aside, can anyone say what is the way forward so that aboriginal society can move into a modern world while keeping their traditions?

    1. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

      So now it is Aboriginal people who need to “move”. To where? When Andrew Bolt and Linda Birney did their TV show visit to Arnhem Land I remember Bolt’s seeming incoherent astonishment that some of the Yolnu mob thought they were already living in paradise in their own land and didn’t really need advice about how to “move into a modern world while keeping their traditions?” They just assumed that everyone already knew that but Bolt seemed not to understand the concept. He really looked like a stranger in a strange land.

      1. Woopwoop

        So there are no problems in Yolgnu land? There’s no contradiction between traditional ways and having cars, modern medical treatment, piped water, a Western diet etc?

        1. John Newton

          Certainly are. If you seriously ant to look at those problems get hold of Richard Trudgen’s Why Warriors Lie Down and die

    2. Hoojakafoopy

      What is the way forward so that modern society can move into an aboriginal world?

      1. AR

        Something devoutly to be wished.
        It could occur tomorrow but then so could an asteroid strike.

      2. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

        Pretty sure it is not through fly in fly out work in remote mines.

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