I had a dream about Noel Pearson last night, the details of which I won’t go into, but it’s a bit of a weird thing and it’s never happened before to my knowledge. As regular LP readers will know, I’m not exactly a fan. Guy points out at Polemica that Kevin Rudd is unlikely to continue to be one either – “Calling someone a “heartless snake” is not usually a recommended method for getting them to support your cause.” It’s a little hard to know how to interpret Pearson’s remarks. Hyperbole is certainly not unknown in his rhetorical register, and he seems often to play his politics very emotionally – something perhaps Mal Brough made mainstream with his regular preaching. It may also be a reflection of the fact that he’s finding it difficult to inhabit the head space that goes along with there being a new government and fearful that his influence will now be diminished due to his (albeit inconsistent) cosying up with the forces of conservatism which left him somewhat marginalised among other Indigenous leaders.
For what it’s worth, I think that the statements from Kevin Rudd about an apology and the commitments to redressing the imbalance in Indigenous disadvantage and life expectancy are some of the most hopeful signs of the new government’s bona fides in this area. I don’t think it’s particularly reprehensible to junk Howard’s referendum promise – for the simple reason that it very clearly wasn’t something that Howard had actually committed his party to (whatever you think of his own motives) and therefore, I suspect, it’s very unlikely that there actually would have been bipartisan support forthcoming.
Andrew Bartlett has an interesting post up about the need to keep up the pressure on Labor in the domain of Indigenous rights and welfare. He argues that one reason the less committed Laborites are able to get away with token words rather than real action is because the Opposition doesn’t pressure them on this issue. I’m not sure that I share Bartlett’s view that it might be a realistic prospect for the Libs to take up the Indigenous cause, but I think that when the promise to restore an elected Indigenous body is fulfilled by Labor we’ll be in a much better position because there will be a representative voice for Indigenous people as opposed to governments of either strip cherry picking some to anoint as “leaders” because they happen to share their own political views. In that context, it’s interesting to read the forceful argument from Chris Graham that the election results in the NT are a democratic repudiation of the intervention by those whom it’s meant to benefit, if not the extra funding and the desire to do something real to end disadvantage. We’re seeing, I think, that “me too-ism” in this area was somewhat illusory and that the escape clauses had more meaning than might have been obvious at the time, but there’s no substitute for a genuinely democratic voice from Indigenous Australians themselves.