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‘Telling whites what they want to hear': Chris Graham on Noel Pearson

Noel Pearson gave a keynote address at the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival. He also featured heavily in the election campaign, most often in the speeches of Tony Abbott. In his essay from Overland 200, Chris Graham casts a critical eye over Pearson’s politics.

Whatever you think of Pearson’s politics, it almost certainly doesn’t match what Pearson thinks of Pearson’s politics.

Since his transformation in 2000, Pearson has been asserting that he’s not a conservative. Again, from his ‘The Light on the Hill’ speech: ‘Much of my thinking will seem to many to indicate that I have merely become conservative. But I propose the reform of welfare, not its abolition.’ And he was still running the line seven years later. Writing in the Australian in July 2007, Pearson says: ‘My aim has been, as Dennis Glover wrote in The Australian yesterday, to “set higher standards for the Left” by critically examining the outcomes of ostensibly leftist policies.’

Pearson seems to be suggesting that he is above politics, that he transcends it. He seems to be saying, ‘I’m not right-wing. I just happen to support the Northern Territory intervention. And I agree with compulsory income management. And I want to mine Cape York.’

It’s obviously pretty silly stuff, but Pearson gets away with it because his politics and his process suits the missionary zeal of governments and media. Most of all, Pearson tells white Australia what they want to hear: we don’t want to know that Aboriginal people are living short lives of misery and abject poverty, and that we’re responsible for it. We want to hear that we’re doing our best to save the unsaveables, and that the demise of Aboriginal people is really their own fault.

You can read the full essay here.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. And now:
    ‘ABORIGINAL leader Noel Pearson has urged key independent Rob Oakeshott to back Tony Abbott, describing the Liberal leader as a “once-in-a-generation” conservative who could lead the way on reconciliation.’

  2. Chris Graham, now and as editor of the NIT, is like a 19th squatter, itching to hang a King Billy plaque around the neck of the most agreeable and sedentary senior blackfella camped on his ideological turf. How it bugs him Pearson won’t sit still. So now he’s grabbed the proverbial blunderbuss and gone Ahab… let’s call it the Overland punitive expedition. How’s it feel to be the leader of the posse, Chris?

    • jvt has forgotten that many intellegent Aboriginal observers would see similarities in the description given to Mr Graham as one crown already held by Pearson, Langton, (Warren)Mundine & the like who have sided with those who oppose Indigenous advancement on our own terms. The ‘New Native Police’ was well in force before Chris rocked up!

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