It has become the accepted wisdom today that somehow the political left is all about compassion and concern, while the political right is just hard-hearted, cold and uncompassionate. Thus the left is supposed to be the champion of the underdog and the oppressed, while the right is seen as working against the poor and the marginalised.
Take Aboriginal policy, for example. The left is said to be there to rescue Aboriginals from the neglect and oppression of the right. Yet things are not always as they seem. One key Aboriginal leader, who describes himself as a man of the left, is not at all happy with leftist ideology. He in fact claims it is keeping Aboriginals in poverty and misery. He instead favours conservative policy as the real hope for helping Aboriginals.
I refer to Noel Pearson, a leading Aboriginal spokesman and director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. Of late, he has been solidly supporting Prime Minister John Howard – much to the chagrin of the lefties – claiming he is better placed to deal with the problems Aboriginals are facing.
He had a column in the Weekend Australian laying out his case. His words are well worth hearing: “The contention of mine that has caused most consternation when I have challenged the Left during the past eight years is that the result of progressive policies can be at odds with the good intentions that inspired them.”
He continues, “I developed a (provocative) rule of thumb when it comes to examining the nostrums and prescriptions of the middle-class culture producers, who often come from the progressive cultural Left: whatever they say our people should do, we should look at the opposite of what they say because that will usually be the right thing to do.”
He then lists eight examples of this. I present four of them:
“They say substance abuse is a health issue and should be approached with tolerance. We say it is a behavioural and social order issue and we need to rebuild intolerance. They say education should be culturally appropriate. We say this should not be an alibi for anti-intellectualism, romantic indigenism and a justification for substandard achievement. They say we should respect Aboriginal English as a real language. We say we should speak our traditional languages and the Queen’s English fluently. They say poverty is our main problem. We say passivity is our main problem because it prevents us from taking advantage of opportunities to get out of poverty and the resources we get are squandered.”
Brilliant stuff. He goes on: “I believe liberal and conservative policies have more to contribute to indigenous uplift than outdated progressive thinking. It became clear to me that some elements of leftist ideology contribute to the barriers that keep our people down. The key to understanding this is to recognise the profound change in the role of leftist theory.”
And finally, “The challenge for the Left today is to stop assuming that leftist policy by definition is policy that will help the most oppressed. The most obvious example that this is not the case is the rise of a political and intellectual industry that explains, defends and facilitates behaviours that keep people in the underclass. A young Aborigine today who follows the conventional leftist recipes of the past four decades is destined to stay at the bottom of society.”
Such honesty and moral clarity are greatly appreciated. If Pearson is convinced that the left has gone wrong here, and that the conservative side of politics is more in tune with the realities of Aboriginal policy, then perhaps we should pay more attention to the right.
The point Noel Pearson made about “romantic indigenism” is made by another commentator, also by the name of Pearson (but unrelated). Christopher Pearson wrote an important column recently entitled “Myth of the noble savage”. In it, he argues that we must jettison the romanticised picture of some idyllic Aboriginal past. He refers to the recent move by the Howard Government to step in to the booze and porn-soaked Aboriginal communities, to clean up child sexual abuse. His whole article is well-worth reading.
It is especially important reading in the light of what was on the front page of today’s Australian. There we read of an 11-year-old Aboriginal boy who forced two girls, aged five and six, to have sex with him, infecting them with sexually transmitted diseases.
There are some very deep problems in the Aboriginal communities, and the left either underplays them, or continues to foist unhelpful ideologies onto their communities. It is time for some realism and some tough choices in this area. The Howard Government is seeking to do that, and the two Pearson articles featured here should be required reading for all concerned Australians.