Constitutional reform activist Noel Pearson has told of how he was dubbed “Lord Byron” by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during discussions about establishing a national Indigenous representative body.
In conversation with former ABC host Kerry O’Brien at the Woodford Folk Festival on Thursday, Mr Pearson recalled a meeting with the Prime Minister in Brisbane earlier this year, where Mr Turnbull rejected the idea of an advisory board.
“I said that this body would not be a third chamber, he then provocatively said to me, ‘Lord Byron’,” Mr Pearson said.
“That was the kind of shallow political line they had prepared, that we were proposing some kind of House of Lords, third chamber of Parliament. They were the attack lines they used quite mercilessly.”
Earlier this year the Referendum Council advised the federal Parliament to establish a national Indigenous advisory body, a “Voice to Parliament”.
The “Voice” would have consulted on legislation surround issues affecting Indigenous Australians.
The proposal was rejected by the government, on the grounds that a representative assembly in which only Indigenous Australians could serve or vote for would be inconsistent with democratic principle, and that it would become seen as a third chamber of Parliament.
O’Brien quizzed Mr Pearson about the recent backflip of his political strategy, having turned his back on the conservative side of politics after two decades.
“It wasn’t as if in that process you were seen as reaching across, trying to build the bridge across the divide between right and left, you really had turned three-quarters to the right, hadn’t you?” O’Brien asked.
“In seeking to use John Howard, in the end, weren’t you used more by him than he was used by you?”
“No, I don’t accept that,” Mr Pearson responded.
“When I say I’ve reached the end of the road with the right, I understand that their compassion ultimately is limited, but the progressive side has got to grow our brains.”
Mr Pearson said the Queensland government’s decision to take back control of the Aurukun State School was payback for political conflicts he had with it in relation to the environment.
“It is the single most tragic loss I have ever suffered,” Mr Pearson said.