A delicious unease and embarrassment in the studio at Q&A
Just occasionally one tunes into this leftist stacked and undemocratic debate on ABC’s Q&A with Tony “Can I Interrupt You” Jones. One can never tell what surprises might be in store.
The show on the 24th November started out inauspiciously with predictable topics — political lies, the government narrative, Rupert Murdoch, and understanding terrorism — and the loudest and smuggest panellist ever seen on the show: the self-proclaimed Marxists and passionate spokesman for animal rights, James “He-who-dares-to-be-an Artist” Cromwell. He is an American actor, here in Australia to appear in David Williamson new play about Rupert Murdoch.
Other panellists were Noel Pearson, Chairman, Cape York Partnership; Amanda Vanstone, Former Liberal Senator; Holly Ransom, Youth Advocate and Co-Chair G20 Youth Summit; and Waleed Aly, Host of RN Drive and ABC in-house expert on Islamic terrorism.
With this glum line up, and dread in heart, there was a surprise performer nevertheless, Noel Pearson.
Cromwell, after giving a particularly sneering run-down on Rupert Murdoch’s multiple short-comings — things like supporting racists, bigots and war-mongers — Tony Jones turned to Noel Pearson and suggested, in fairness, that he might have a different take on Murdoch. Well, he certainly did, and Pearson became the surprise performer of the evening with views we had never heard expressed before on the ABC.
He went straight to it, and the more he went on, the more an eerie silence filled the studio.
Yeah. I mean, without the support of The Australian over the last 15 years, I don’t think we would have made the ground we have in Indigenous affairs. I think a reorientation in Indigenous affairs was necessary and, quite frankly, The Australian was the only national media vehicle that got behind that. I also think that in prospect, such as with constitutional reform, recognising Indigenous Australians, that quite frankly, Rupert Murdoch is probably one of, I would say, five or six people who are absolutely key to a successful referendum. I would count Paul Keating and John Howard as the other two white Australians who are key to that success, as well as Patrick Dodson and Lowitja O’Donoghue. So, I understand the whole critique of News Corporation and Murdoch and so on but when it comes to Indigenous affairs in this country, Murdoch has a history that goes back to the Stuart case for the Adelaide Advertiser in 1959, the fight against the death penalty for Max Stuart and his flagship paper, in particular, has been completely assiduous in its support of what I would say is the right set of radical centre politics. Now, that might not be beautiful music to the ears of people on the left but I would argue that the radical centre policies that we are trying to prosecute here are absolutely essential for Indigenous people.
After recovering from this enormous elephant in the room, Cromwell blathered out a feeble:
“Well, you know, I’m playing a character called Rupert Murdoch who has this journey in the play. It’s not Rupert Murdoch. I have no idea what goes on in Rupert Murdoch. I don’t understand this. His voice certainly is louder than anybody else’s voice …[???]
He finished this part of his diatribe by talking about the Native Americans, ‘ripped off’, dominated by the the ‘Anglos who surround them’ and appealed for the need of a dialogue for them. “Everybody has to have a voice”.
Pearson then explained very calmly what it felt like not to have a proper voice.
Well, some of our most gut-wrenching fights for the rights of our people in relation to land and the ability of our people to develop and have employment and so on have been supported by Murdoch’s papers solely. Not a word from the ABC. Not a word from Fairfax. The Murdoch press has argued for our right not to live in poverty and they’ve supported us in the fights. They’ve also supported justice for deaths in custody, the Mulrunji case in Palm Island. The Australian newspaper left every other outlet for dead in advocating Mulringi’s case in the death in custody at Palm Island. So, I detect in Murdoch, and I have met him a number of times, I detect basic Australian fealty to the Indigenous people. There is a human being under the mogul and I think that whatever he might do in the United States, the way in which he has influenced his outlets here in Australia, I can’t be more thankful for the support they give us and our causes. People might not agree with the causes I advocate but they are causes about land rights, human rights but also about welfare reform and economic development. We’ve got to have both and we’ve got to combine those two things in an intelligent way because it can’t just be that we live off a leftist prescription and abandoning the right’s prescription. We have got to bring the two together.
What a brilliant reply. What an iconoclastic view for our ABC and its audience. There was a palpable sense of embarrassment and silence in the studio.
The caravan moved on eventually to the tricky problems concerning our Muslim minority and terrorism. The question from the floor was about whether or not the Government had done enough to understand the point of view of these people or is our reaction to ISIS simply producing ever more radicalised individuals?’
After some unsatisfactory waffling from the ABC’s Waleed ‘Nothing-to-See-Here’ Aly, Tony Jones at this point turned to Noel Pearson with a beautiful slime question, the quality for which he is an expert:
I’d actually quite like to hear from Noel Pearson on this. It is not a subject we often hear you talking about but it’s occupied a huge amount of space in The Australian newspaper, for example, which you obviously read.
Noel decides to talk about Assimilation and the Enlightenment. Pure gold.
I can’t speak directly to it. I can only speak about my thinking about assimilation. I came upon the idea that, you know, assimilation is a bad thing. It has been utterly opposed by Indigenous people. We don’t want to lose our identity, religion, culture, traditions but there is one thing in which – in respect of which a process of assimilation is unavoidable and that is assimilation to the enlightenment. And I think the problem we are grappling with in Australia, as throughout the West, is that the enlightenment has been conflated with kind of western culture, white fellas. Associated with white fellas, when the enlightenment was a human achievement. It wasn’t a western achievement or a British achievement or an English achievement. It’s a human achievement contributed to by people from the Arab States and China and India. All over the globe have contributed to the enlightenment and I think we’re on a wrong course here in Australia when we insist on Muslims assimilating on the basis of “Well, you’ve got to be like the white fellas of Australia” when, really, the essential – and the same goes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The only assimilation, if I might use that very untrusted word – the only assimilation that should ever be a kind of requisite of citizenship, is assimilation to the enlightenment.
TONY JONES: And what do you do when something – a phenomenon pops up like ISIS, which is sort of the antithesis of the enlightenment?
NOEL PEARSON: Yes, and absolutely it’s got to be opposed and I think that but the way in which we deal with our own citizens who might be attracted to radical ideologies like that is not to hector them about the superiority of the white enlightenment but the human achievement of the enlightenment, which is as much a heritage of Muslims and Indigenous Australians as it is for Anglo Australians.
An outstanding night for Q&A and for the clear headedness of Noel Pearson.