Turnbull has 'burned bridge of bipartisanship', looks to future Labor government


2017 November, 26

Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson has revealed he will try to convince a future Labor government to legislate for an Indigenous body to advise Parliament on Indigenous affairs, declaring bipartisanship on changing the constitution to enshrine an Indigenous body is effectively dead.

In an exclusive interview with RN Drive after publishing his essay titled Betrayal in The Monthly, Mr Pearson said it is his personal view that changing the constitution should be the end goal but, since the Turnbull Government had rejected the Uluru proposal, the nation needed to find an alternative pathway.

"In the absence of bipartisanship, constitutional recognition is very difficult, if not impossible," he told RN Drive in an interview to be broadcast tonight.

"My own personal view is that the legislation is where the future lies and urging a sympathetic government, a progressive government, from the left to do the right thing by blackfellas is where I will put my energies in the future."

But Mr Pearson said changing the constitution still had a future under different conservative leadership.

Mr Pearson points to the same-sex marriage postal survey result to argue that Australians are misunderstood by the Government.

"The silent majority of Australia is not as mean, is not as short-sighted, is not as mean-spirited as people would have us believe," he said.

"I think the same-sex marriage debate has shown us very clearly that the silent majority of Australia is actually … generous, very fair-minded and actually want to bequeath our children something better than we have — particularly in relation to Indigenous peoples and the relationship they have with the rest of the country and their place in Australian society.

"People want something better."

Turnbull Government 'burned bridges', Pearson says

Mr Pearson said he regrets urging Indigenous Australians to put their trust in conservative politicians and the right side of politics because they have been betrayed in the end.

"What I would say to them is that I have no right, I have no right to tell you ever again that there is hope in that direction because it has not transpired and … Malcolm Turnbull has essentially burned the bridge that we sought to build over these past two decades," Mr Pearson said.

Mr Pearson, who has been cultivating conservative support for years on constitutional recognition, said he felt that even some of the people in the Turnbull Government he had considered allies had let Indigenous people down.

He accused those he had considered allies like Human Services Minister Alan Tudge who had worked for Mr Pearson in Cape York of abandoning Indigenous people on constitutional change.

He was "completely missing in action absolutely" and "useless to us" Mr Pearson said.

"The problem is that they just don't care enough.

"At the end of the day I've learned after 17 years is that they are great takers but they're not givers, they will take the Indigenous cause but they will not give anything to it and it's a tragic reality," Mr Pearson said.

"Lots of people will say, 'Well, I could have told you so', but I feel that we've given it the best shot that we could."

In his searing Monthly essay, Mr Pearson said former prime minister Tony Abbott effectively destroyed substantive constitutional reform by using it as "a stalking horse in his campaign of vengeance against [Mr] Turnbull".

He said his "long game" cultivating support from leaders on the conservative side of politics "availed us nothing in the end", despite his 17-year effort.

But in the essay he said constitutional reform "will not die", saying this setback at the hands of Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott "is not our destiny".

Turnbull has 'burned bridge of bipartisanship', looks to future Labor government