|Born||25 June 1965|
Cooktown, Queensland, Australia
|Alma mater||University of Sydney|
|Known for||Founder of the Cape York Partnership and Good to Great Schools Australia|
Noel Pearson (born 25 June 1965) is an Australian lawyer and founder of the Cape York Partnership, an organisation promoting the economic and social development of Cape York. He is also the Founder of Good to Great Schools Australia an organisation dedicated to lifting education outcomes for all Australian students.
Pearson came to prominence as an advocate for Indigenous Australians' rights to land – a position he maintains. Since the end of the 1990s his focus has encompassed a range of additional issues: he has strongly argued that Indigenous policy needs to change direction, notably in relation to welfare, substance abuse, child protection, education and economic development. Pearson criticises approaches to these problems which, while claiming to be "progressive", in his opinion merely keep Indigenous people dependent on welfare and out of the "real economy". He outlined this position in 2000 in his speech, The light on the hill.
In the first decade of the 2000s, Pearson began outlining an alternative to traditional left-wing politics that he called radical centrism. One part of his selected writings is entitled "The Quest for a Radical Centre".
Pearson was born in Cooktown, Queensland and grew up at Hope Vale, Queensland, a Lutheran Mission in the Cape York Peninsula. He is the son of Glen Pearson, from the Bagaarrmugu, and Ivy Pearson, from the Guggu Yalanji. His brother is Gerhardt Pearson. After attending primary school in Hope Vale, Pearson became a boarder at St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane. Pearson graduated from the University of Sydney with degrees in history and law. His history thesis focused on the Hope Vale Lutheran Mission, and was published by the History Department in "Maps Dreams History".
In 1990 Pearson co-founded the Cape York Land Council, and resigned in 1996. In 1993 Pearson acted as representative to the traditional owners in the first land claim to the Flinders Island and Cape Melville National Park, a claim which was successful, although the owners have yet to receive title. He continues to advise a number of Indigenous organisations in Cape York.
In 1993, he was one of six Indigenous Australians who jointly presented the Boyer Lectures "Voices of the Land" for the International Year for the World's Indigenous People.
In 2004, he became the Director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.
On 15 December 2006, Pearson publicly criticised the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, in relation to her decision not to press charges against the police officer involved in the 2004 Palm Island death in custody of Palm Island resident Mulrunji. On 26 January 2007, Pearson welcomed the decision to prosecute the officer, after the inquiry by Sir Laurence Street found there was sufficient evidence to press charges. Pearson also argued, however, that a 20- or 30-year plan was necessary for Palm Island.
On 11 May 2007, Pearson and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough launched a new welfare scheme for Pearson's home town of Hope Vale. The scheme offers funds for home improvements, and low interest loans for home ownership. On 24 May, Pearson published White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre, a lengthy account of his understanding of the challenges of policy formulation and enactment.
On 17 September 2007, with Prime Minister Howard facing probable electoral defeat, Noel Pearson sent him a 6,000-word letter, arguing that Howard's best chance at re-election was to make a dramatic gesture in relation to reconciliation with the Aboriginal population. Pearson argued that Howard needed to promise a referendum on recognition of the indigenous population, and also that Howard was in a unique position to affect the course of indigenous relations, but only if Howard "bared his soul" to the Australian electorate. Howard accepted Pearson's advice, and on 11 October announced plans for a referendum, but was nevertheless comprehensively defeated at the election.
In November 2014, Pearson received effusive praise for his eulogy for former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, which was hailed in the Australian media as "one of the best political speeches of our time".
In November 2019, it was announced that Pearson would be one of 20 members of the Senior Advisory Group to help co-design the Indigenous voice to government set up by Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians. The Group is co-chaired by Wyatt, Marcia Langton and Tom Calma.
On 27 October 2022, Pearson gave the first of his Boyer Lectures, Who we were and who we can be: 'Recognition' In these lectures Pearson explores the proposal to amend the Australian Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia through an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
Support for Northern Territory intervention
On 20 June 2007, Pearson argued for the necessity of intervention in relation to Aboriginal child sexual abuse. On 21 June, in response to a report entitled "Little Children are Sacred," Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared that problems of child abuse in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities had reached a crisis point, and he initiated the "national emergency response". The response involved a series of interventions including, among other things, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, compulsory management of Aboriginal people's income, the deployment of police and health workers, abolition of the permit system, compulsory acquisition of Aboriginal land and a ban on alcohol. Pearson indicated qualified support for these measures, but has received some criticism for doing so. On 18 July, the Indigenous Affairs Minister announced that the federal government would fund the welfare reform trials in Cape York recommended in From Hand Out to Hand Up.
Pearson's position on the intervention found both support and opposition from other Indigenous leaders and members of the Australian community. On 30 November 2007, leading Indigenous academic Marcia Langton argued for the necessity of the emergency response in the Northern Territory. Langton supported Pearson's suggestions to shut down alcohol outlets and establish children's commissions and shelters in each community. On 7 December, on the other hand, Philip Martin, who worked on the Welfare Reform Project in Aurukun for Pearson's Cape York Partnerships between November 2006 and May 2007, argued that Pearson's welfare reform approach cannot work unless other problems, such as inadequate policing and housing, are also addressed.
It was reported on 20 September 2007 that on 12 August Pearson had brokered a secret meeting between Mal Brough and Northern Territory Indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu. At the meeting Yunupingu changed his position in relation to the Northern Territory emergency response: rather than opposing the measures, Yunupingu decided the intervention was instead an opportunity for the Indigenous community. Yunupingu also signed a memorandum of understanding regarding a 99-year lease to be held over his community of Gunyangara (Ski Beach) in Arnhem Land. He also agreed to set up a council of elders in the Northern Territory to advise the government on the course of the intervention.
Yunupingu subsequently reversed his position on the intervention, saying that it has failed and is "It is now three years old but it hasn't made Aboriginal people any richer or healthier or happier. It is really and truly dragging people down to create more misery… Let's start again."
Speaking in response to the Aurukun rape case involving a 10-year-old girl, Pearson said on 12 December 2007 that the case was "the tip of a tragic iceberg," and that there should be no hesitation in taking Aboriginal children out of dysfunctional and dangerous family circumstances. He did not, however, support calls to extend the Northern Territory emergency intervention to Queensland. Pearson argued on 15 December that the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children may be lessened by establishing a "Families Responsibilities Commission" charged with making decisions about whether welfare recipients are fulfilling their obligations. Prime Minister Rudd ruled out extending the intervention to Queensland in the near future, but stated that he was in discussion with the Queensland government about Pearson's proposal for a "Families Responsibilities Commission."
On 24 November 2007, the day of the Australian federal election, Pearson strongly attacked the opposition leader Kevin Rudd for reneging, two days before the election, on his commitment to seek constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians. Rudd had initially pledged bipartisan support for John Howard's proposal, made on the first day of the election campaign, to pursue a referendum recognising Indigenous Australians, but it was reported on 23 November that Rudd had stated that, should he win the election, he was "unlikely to pursue Mr Howard's plan for a reconciliation preamble." The day after Rudd won the election, Labor Senator Penny Wong defended their policy of concentrating on practical rather than symbolic measures, aimed at narrowing the gap between Indigenous and other Australians.
Pearson has called for constitutional amendments in two areas, "one symbolic and the other substantive":
- An appropriate preamble [recognising Indigenous people in the Constitution]
- A new head of power, which provides constitutional authority for the proposed national agreement along the lines that had been proposed by the Makarrata Report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in 1983."
In April 2008, after attending the Australia 2020 Summit, Pearson argued that any proposed constitutional reform aimed at recognising indigenous Australians must be in a form acceptable to a wide range of the Australian population. He therefore indicated his belief that a "domestic agreement" would be preferable to a treaty between sovereign states.
Pearson argued in August 2008 that welfare benefits should not be granted to indigenous Australians under the age of 21.
Wild Rivers debate
On 14 November 2007, it was reported that Pearson had accused the Queensland government of Anna Bligh, and the federal Labor opposition led by Kevin Rudd, of "selling out Aborigines," saying that a plan to prevent development of the Cape York region was a bid to gain The Greens preferences. Pearson argued that at the very moment when welfare reform was being attempted in Cape York, economic opportunities for the Aboriginal population would be "shot down" by such a move.
In April 2009, Pearson went on temporary leave from Director of the Cape York Institute he had established in 2004 (though claimed at the time he was stepping down altogether). Pearson objected to legislation introduced by the Queensland government declaring certain rivers on indigenous land to be "wild rivers." He stated that he felt this legislation, which would make economic development of the river areas difficult or impossible, was an attempt by the Anna Bligh government to maintain close links with the Greens for electoral purposes, and that it ran counter to the interests of the local indigenous population. He stated that he had therefore decided to resign his Directorship in order to return to the land rights issues which had formerly been his major preoccupation. It was later revealed that Pearson in fact did not step down from the Directorship and only took temporary leave.
In 2009 Pearson published a collection of his writings under the title Up from the Mission: Selected Writings as well as a Quarterly Essay titled Radical Hope: Education and equality in Australia.
Alleged antisemitic comments
In April 2023, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser questioned who would be able to participate in an Indigenous Voice to Parliament should the referendum pass. Pearson responded by questioning him if Indigenous Australians should wear a specific badge on their clothes or have a specific tattoo. Sky News Australia host Peta Credlin, an opponent of the Voice, claimed that these comments were comparing Leeser to Adolf Hitler, despite the fact that Leeser is Jewish and follows Judaism. She stated that:
"This [the question] was a clear reference to what the Nazis did to Jews – the Star of David on their clothing, and of course, later in the death camps, the tattooed numbers on arms. It was a calculated attack of carefully chosen words, a deliberate low blow directed at Leeser who is a proud man of Jewish faith."
"I was very disappointed in Noel's claims. He made those remarks during Passover. In fact the time he was making those remarks, I was taking my son to the synagogue. That’s not the sort of debate we should be conducting. I think it's important that those people who are advocating Yes, do understand the concerns and queries of people who doubt. And that's certainly how I will conducting myself in this referendum campaign."
Pearson's comments were condemned by other Sky News reporters such as Andrew Bolt, as well as by former Victorian Liberal Party President Michael Kroger. However, former Labor Senator Stephen Conroy denied the comparison to Nazism, but still acknowledged that the timing and word choices were poor.
Alleged verbal abuse
He has also allegedly used abusive language to describe some of his political opponents, such as "arse coverer", "maggot", "bucket of shit", and "fucking white cunt". Pearson denies these allegations.
In May 2017, as part of a confidential legal settlement, The Guardian Australia issued an apology to Noel Pearson over a story they published in January 2017, which made defamatory claims. The newspaper said it "accepts that the comments regarding Mr Noel Pearson in that article were false, [...] unreservedly retracts the statements made in the article regarding Mr Noel Pearson and apologises for the harm and distress caused to him".
- Pearson, N (29 May 2010). "Promise of Mabo not yet realised" (Opinion). The Australian.[self-published source?]
- Pearson, Noel (12 August 2000). The Light on the Hill: Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture (Extract; transcript) (Speech). Bathurst, NSW: Australianpolitics.com. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
- Pearson, Noel (21 April 2007). "Hunt for the Radical Centre" (Opinion). The Australian. Retrieved 27 February 2013.[self-published source?]
- Pearson, Noel (7 September 2010). Nights When I Dream of a Better World: Moving from the Centre-Left to the Radical Centre of Australian Politics (PDF) (Speech). Swinburne Institute for Social Research. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2014. Retrieved 27 February 2013.[self-published source?]
- Pearson, Noel (2011). Up From the Mission: Selected Writings. Black Inc. / Schwartz Media Ltd., Part Four. pp. 219–322. ISBN 978-1-86395-520-1.[self-published source?]
- "Voice Co-Design Senior Advisory Group". Ministers Media Centre. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
- Pearson, Noel. "Walking in two worlds". The Australian. Archived from the original on 27 December 2007.
- "Director". Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. Archived from the original on 5 February 2007.
- "Contributor: Noel Pearson". Griffith Review. Griffith University. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
- Foley, Gary (14 June 2001). "The road to native title: The Aboriginal rights movement and the Australian Labor Party, 1973–1996". The Koori History Website.
- "DPP labelled incompetent after Palm Is charges decision". ABC News. Australia. 15 December 2006. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
- "Pearson calls for 20-year strategy". The Australian.[dead link]
- Iggulden, Tom (11 May 2007). "Govt launches radical Indigenous welfare plan" (transcript). Lateline. Australia: ABC TV. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
- Stafford, Annabel (12 May 2007). "Hope for Pearson's great expectations". The Age. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
- Pearson, Noel (24 May 2007). "Indigenous Australia" (PDF). Boomerang Australia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 September 2007.
- "From Hand Out to Hand Up" (PDF). Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. June 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 April 2012.
- "Brough backs indigenous welfare overhaul". The Age. 19 June 2007.
- "Pearson defends Aboriginal welfare plan". The Australian. Archived from the original on 23 June 2007.
- Kelly, Paul. "Howard's epiphany". The Australian. Archived from the original on 9 September 2009.
- Grattan, Michelle; Schubert, Misha; Murphy, Katharine (11 October 2007). "Howard's 11th-hour rethink on reconciliation". The Age.[permanent dead link]
- Gray, Gary; Guest, Wendy (2016). Not Just For This Life : Gough Whitlam Remembered. University of New South Wales Press. pp. 268–273.
- "Noel Pearson's eulogy for Gough Whitlam praised as one for the ages". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
- Clark, Tom (7 November 2014). "A closer look at Noel Pearson's eulogy for Gough Whitlam". The Conversation. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
- Remeikis, Amy (8 November 2019). "Chris Kenny added to group working on Indigenous voice to parliament". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
- "Noel Pearson Boyer Lecture series: Recognition". ABC. Retrieved 2 November 2022.
- "Noel Pearson's first Boyer Lecture: Who we were and who we can be". RadioInfo Australia. 26 October 2022. Retrieved 2 November 2022.
- Karvelas, Patricia. "Pearson's challenge: spend a week watching indigenous abuses". The Australian.[permanent dead link]
- Karvelas, Patricia. "Crusade to save Aboriginal kids from abuse". The Australian. Archived from the original on 21 June 2007.
- "Pearson fears for Indigenous parents' freedom". ABC News. Australia. 22 June 2007.
- "Noel Pearson discusses the issues faced by indigenous communities" (transcript). Lateline. Australia: ABC TV. 2007.
- Pearson, Noel. "Politics aside, an end to the tears is our priority". The Australian. Archived from the original on 23 June 2007.[self-published source?]
- Koch, Tony; Shanahan, Dennis. "Get parents who shield abusers: Pearson". The Australian. Archived from the original on 25 June 2007.
- "PM accused of black land grab". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 July 2007.
- "An interview with Gary Foley: history will judge Howard's reforms". Online Opinion.
- "$48m pledge to Cape York welfare". The Australian. Archived from the original on 19 September 2012.
- Langton, Marcia (29 November 2007). "It's time to stop playing politics with vulnerable lives". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Martin, Philip (6 December 2007). "Welfare is not the key". The Age.
- "Top leader now backs Territory intervention". The Age. 19 September 2007.
- "Indigenous leader signs 99-year land lease to Govt". 7.30. Australia: ABC TV. 2007.
- "Paternal feelings help thrash out pact for nation". The Age. 20 September 2007.
- Yunupingu, Galarrwuy. "The challenge begins". The Australian. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007.
- "Whose coup? Canberra and clan both celebrate a deal". The Sydney Morning Herald. 21 September 2007.
- "NT intervention 'creating misery': Yunupingu". ABC News. Australia. 12 August 2009.
- "Pearson calls for end to passive welfare" (transcript). 7.30. Australia: ABC TV. 2007.
- Murphy, Padraic; Koch, Tony. "Family's warnings ignored". The Australian. Archived from the original on 13 December 2007.
- "Take the children: Pearson". The Age. 13 December 2007.
- "Pearson seeks inquiry into 'cover-up'". The Australian. Archived from the original on 14 December 2007.
- Pearson, Noel. "Blame game ends here". The Australian. Archived from the original on 27 December 2007.[self-published source?]
- "Rudd rules out extending NT program". The Australian. Archived from the original on 17 December 2007.
- Shanahan, Dennis. "Indigenous 'challenges' on COAG agenda". The Australian. Archived from the original on 27 December 2007.
- Murphy, Padraic. "Rudd betrayed us, says Pearson". The Australian. Archived from the original on 25 November 2007.
- Kelly, Paul. "Pearson's dread of Rudd in power". The Australian. Archived from the original on 28 November 2007.
- Pearson, Neil. "Noel Pearson's statement on Kevin Rudd". The Australian. Archived from the original on 15 December 2008.[self-published source?]
- Pearson, Noel. "Reconciliation U-turn shows leader's true colours". The Australian. Archived from the original on 28 November 2007.[self-published source?]
- Kelly, Paul; Shanahan, Dennis. "Rudd to turn back boatpeople". The Australian. Archived from the original on 23 November 2007.
- "Labor stands by 'practical' Indigenous policy". ABC News. Australia. 25 November 2007.
- Pearson, Noel (14 January 2010). "Reconciliation must come with the republic" (Opinion). The Australian.[self-published source?]
- Robinson, Natasha; Karvelas, Patricia. "Forget a treaty, say Pearson, Yunupingu". News.com.au. Archived from the original on 27 April 2008.
- Pearson, Noel. "No progress without wide support". The Australian. Archived from the original on 21 May 2008.[self-published source?]
- Pearson, Noel. "When words aren't enough". The Australian. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009.[self-published source?]
- Karvelas, Patricia; Murphy, Padraic. "Ban Aboriginal dole until 21, Noel Pearson pleads". The Australian. Archived from the original on 24 August 2008.
- Koch, Tony. "Labor accused of selling Cape down the river". The Australian. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012.
- Koch, Tony; Elks, Sarah. "Noel Pearson quits institute to fight wild rivers battle". The Australian. Archived from the original on 11 April 2009.
- Schwarten, Evan (8 April 2009). "Revolt on Cape York over wild rivers". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- "Noel Pearson delivers 'low blow' toward Julian Leeser's Jewish faith". 10 April 2023.
- "'Very disappointed': Leeser responds to Noel Pearson's comments". 11 April 2023.
- Robertson, Joshua (28 November 2016). "Noel Pearson used abusive language, says Queensland's education head". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 18 October 2023.
- Bita, Natasha. "Pearson fights off cancer scare". The Australian.
- "Apology to Noel Pearson". The Guardian. 21 May 2017. Archived from the original on 8 June 2023.