Greens alliance threatens Aboriginal wellbeing: Noel Pearson
- From: The Australian
- September 07, 2010
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.
Mr Pearson made his extraordinary last-minute intervention in a bid to convince Mr Oakeshott to back Mr Abbott, a former indigenous affairs spokesman, on the basis that a Coalition government would show more leadership on Aboriginal issues than Labor.
Mr Pearson told Mr Oakeshott he strongly believed Labor was unwilling to take on issues confronting Aboriginal Australia.
"We're going to get done over by an active Greens agenda to stifle indigenous aspirations combined with a passive indifference on the part of Labor," he said.
He is particularly concerned about federal Labor's unwillingness to overturn the Queensland government's Wild Rivers law, which limits developments in many Aboriginal areas.
Mr Pearson said that while former prime minister John Howard had indeed called for reconciliation, "he was never going to cross the Rubicon".
Mr Pearson has in the past been extremely critical of the Howard government. In 1998, he said Aboriginal Australia had been excluded from deliberations on the Wik native title legislation and furiously accused Mr Howard of returning the nation "to a dialogue about indigenous rights that takes us back to the period before the 1960s".
"(Mr Howard) was from an earlier generation; Abbott is from a new generation but like Howard he has the capacity to carry conservative Australia with him in a way that I've always believed that Peter Costello or Malcolm Turnbull . . . are unable to do," Mr Pearson said.
Mr Pearson's intervention could be crucial at a time when Julia Gillard has been gaining momentum in the race to form the next government.
It is understood that of the three independents, Mr Oakeshott has been the least comfortable with the Coalition, and Mr Pearson's move significantly changes the dynamics.
It is understood Mr Pearson is prepared to go to Canberra for talks with the independents. Mr Oakeshott - who says he is concerned about indigenous people getting a fairer go in Australia - yesterday said Mr Pearson had sent him a six-page document detailing his key issues of concern on indigenous affairs.
Mr Pearson has been lauded by Mr Abbott, who has left open the option of giving him a special role in any government he forms.
Yesterday Mr Pearson told The Australian he had on Sunday called Mr Oakeshott, whose wife Sara-Jane is proud of her Aboriginal and South Sea Islander heritage, to tell him he had a unique opportunity to sort out indigenous reconciliation.
He said he decided to intervene because Queensland independent Bob Katter was not achieving anything with Labor on his indigenous agenda.
Mr Katter wants all workers on indigenous housing projects to be indigenous and for Canberra to override Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's Wild Rivers legislation. Mr Katter said Aborigines should have full control over their own land.
Ms Bligh declared last year that three major waterways on Cape York - the Archer, Stewart and Lockhart rivers - were wild rivers and imposed severe restrictions on development near them or in their catchment areas.
Mr Pearson told The Australian that if Mr Katter could not get these issues addressed by Labor, it proved the Gillard government was not prepared to act to change indigenous disadvantage.
"I've been active in making representations to Bob (Katter) and now Oakeshott," Mr Pearson said.
"My fear is that if Bob Katter can't get an assurance in relation to (relative to everything) small matter like this, then anything else on the Aboriginal aspirations agenda will be the same mealy-mouthed approach."
Mr Pearson said he had effectively given up on Labor's ability to rise to the challenge of overhauling indigenous affairs.
"We are in this position where the Coalition position is more progressive on the question of Aboriginal rights than the Labor and Greens position," the Cape York leader said. "Never before has there been an extraordinary raising of the indigenous issue in the way that Bob Katter has sought to do because he has this extraordinary window of opportunity to be so peremptorily rejected."
Mr Pearson told Mr Oakeshott he had an opportunity to "settle" indigenous reconciliation over the next three years.
Mr Pearson said while he acknowledged Labor had made good investments in Aboriginal housing, investments were not social justice.
He said he had encountered a "brick wall" on the issues he had been raising, from Wild Rivers to indigenous home ownership.
Mr Pearson said Mr Oakeshott had told him his wife's grandfather had been the first indigenous home owner in Queensland.
Mr Oakeshott said he spoke to Mr Pearson for the first time this week.
"The work he's been doing nationally in indigenous affairs sits comfortably with the work we have been doing locally on the mid-north coast of NSW," Mr Oakeshott said.
"I look forward to an ongoing relationship with him and other indigenous leaders throughout Australia to make this parliament the parliament to address indigenous employment and education like it has never been done before.
"He knows I've got an interest in it."
Mr Oakeshott said Mr Pearson had given him a document to mull over.
Mr Pearson delivered a scathing critique of the Labor Party on Friday, declaring its failure to articulate its reason for being was "not good for the cause of those who seek progress in Australia".
Mr Abbott has said he will use commonwealth law to override the Wild rivers laws, but the Gillard government has not said whether it will take action.