Noel Pearson: Stan Grant's 'tour de force' a companion to Keating's Redfern speech

Noel Pearson: Stan Grant’s ‘tour de force’ a companion to Keating’s Redfern speech

A speech by the veteran journalist and Wiradjuri man Stan Grant to the Ethics Centre in Sydney was a “tour de force” and the “companion to PM Paul Keating’s speech at Redfern Park in 1992”, Noel Pearson has told the National Press Club.

In his wide-ranging address the Indigenous lawyer and founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership also said it was time to end department and minister-led policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and that he regretted the ousting of the former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Pearson began his address by remarking on Grant’s speech, which was delivered last year but captured international attention this month.

“The truths of its indictments were long articulated by generations of Indigenous Australians on the outer fringes of the idea of Australia but never in the public square,” Pearson said.

“There is nothing in his account unfamiliar to blackfellas. His is the companion to PM Paul Keating’s speech at Redfern Park in 1992. Paul Keating spoke for white Australia, Stan Grant has spoken for black Australia.

“In the larger sweep of history Grant’s searing meditation on racism in our country will be seen as a moment our feet first waded into the swollen waters of our own Rubicon.”

Grant, who is also the Indigenous affairs editor of Guardian Australia, told the Sydney audience racism was “at the heart of the Australian dream”.

In his address on Wednesday Pearson lamented the “crisis” of Indigenous affairs, demonstrated most profoundly, he said, by the rates of incarceration.

Pearson said it was time for the Turnbull government to properly look at Indigenous affairs and criticised the lack of action taken on the Empowered Communities policy blueprint, which he said had been ignored. He said it was clear some senior bureaucrats had never read it.

“It appears we may have cast pearl under swine,” he told the audience.

“The reforms we propose will in fact minimise the necessity of having a ministry of Aboriginal affairs or indeed eventually a minister … Ministers cannot determine what is right in any particular context and what project will also work. Rather, ministers should create the systemic solutions for communities to strive for development within the parameters of an enabling policy.”

He said Australia had reached the “dead end” of Indigenous affairs presided over by a minister and department.

“There’s good things happening and there are good people involved,” he said. “I’m not saying that the people involved are insincere. It is just that the system by which they attempt to deal with our communities is not one that works. It can’t discern excrement from clay.”

Pearson regretted not going into politics 15 years ago, he said, and felt he had “hit the limit of how much influence you can have barking from the outside”.

“These reforms that we seek will not get up without a stronger voice; unless blackfellas are inside the system this is about as much leverage as anyone can muster from the outside,” he said.

He also expressed regret at the ousting of his “close friend” Tony Abbott from the prime ministership last year. “I think there’s been few people more genuinely signed up to our cause than him and I regret his passing,” Pearson said.

Abbott had “struggled” to understand the nature of challenges for Indigenous people and communities but he had been sincere and his great achievement would be to have got constitutional recognition “on the road”.

In the speech and subsequent Q&A, Pearson said debates on constitutional recognition and becoming a republic had to be kept separate.

He was an “agnostic” about the republic issue and noted a number of supporters of constitutional recognition were conservatives and monarchists. The referendum on constitutional recognition should come first, he said.

Pearson also called for changes to Australia Day, suggesting the event be adjusted to commemorate three moments in Australian history rather than just the arrival of the first fleet.

Also celebrated should be the moment 53,000 years ago “when the first Australians crossed the Torres Strait land bridge to this continent” and the removal of the White Australia policy in the 1970s.

“It is these dates that speak to the three parts of Australia, our Indigenous heritage, the fact of our British colonisation and the removal of discrimination against migrants,” he said.

“It can’t just be about what was destroyed. It must also be about what we have built.”

He noted “along with so many other people” that to identify 26 January 1788 as the beginning of Australia “excludes other stories”.

READ: The Gaurdian


Scroll to Top