Indigenous lawyer and Cape York activist Noel Pearson has taken a swipe at the Government’s lack of action on Indigenous policies, using the lack of response to his Empowered Communities report as an example.
The report was written by Indigenous leaders in eight regions around Australia and claims to show a detailed map to reforming most of Indigenous affairs. It was given to the Government a year ago.
“I fear for our Empowered Communities proposal. I mean, some of the senior bureaucrats who speak to us have clearly never read it,” he told the National Press Club.
“The way they talk about it discloses that they’ve never read it. I think we’ve reached the dead end of Indigenous affairs presided over by a minister and a department.”
Mr Pearson told the Press Club that despite the best intentions of bureaucrats in Canberra, Indigenous affairs was in “deep crisis”.
“The current system and the way we play it will not deliver,” he said.
“We have a minister and a department and they do good, but they do not do enough.”
The Kuku Yalanji man also took aim at the rhetoric used by Malcolm Turnbull – the man who replaced his close friend Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister’s conversation is largely focused on business and product innovation and venture capital mobilisation rather than social and policy innovation,” he said.
“More innovation will come from connecting the left and the right in the parliamentary process than any amount of politicians trying to be Latter-day Steve Jobs, trying to do product and business innovation.”
During Tony Abbott’s prime ministership, Noel Pearson was part of the Government’s inner circle of Indigenous advisers.
The former Prime Minister called him a friend and mentor, and Noel Pearson became one of the leading voices in the constitutional recognition debate.
He travelled to Arnhem Land with Mr Abbott in 2014 on his first visit as Prime Minister to an Indigenous community. Mr Pearson also hosted Tony Abbott during his trip to his hometown of Hope Vale in 2011.
He told the Press Club that Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership was cut tragically short but took aim at his Government’s controversial Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
The funding policy has been widely criticised by Indigenous organisations, Labor and the Greens.
“The idea that a single minister can pick winners in a complex policy market would not be tolerated outside of Indigenous affairs. Ministers cannot determine what is right in any particular context and what projects will work.”
Mr Pearson opened his address at the National Press Club in his traditional language – Guugu Yimithirr.
He also told the audience he was optimistic that the referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the Constitution would succeed in the next few years.