By Norman Miller 16.4.23

As Co-founder of the Indigenous Friends of Israel, I have to call out the antisemitic remarks of fellow Aboriginal Australian Noel Pearson to Julian Leeser, at the time, the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians.

I note that First Nations Australians have had huge support from Jewish people, and particularly Jewish lawyers over the years. Two examples of this are the historic Mabo case where the late Ron Castan AM QC was senior counsel and currently, Mark Leibler, Co-chair of the Referendum Council that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Noel Pearson himself has been a recipient of this generosity.

This makes Pearson’s remarks even more distressing.

Leeser and Damien Freeman, who is also Jewish, co-founded Uphold and Recognise in 2015 to make the conservative case for constitutional recognition of First Nations people. Pearson has acknowledged Leeser’s role in the conception of the Voice.

Last month Leeser, as Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, said the government needed to clarify the definition of Aboriginality prior to the referendum.

This would be an obvious question as the Voice would have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives who would be selected and/or elected so eligibility to be selected and to vote could arise as an issue, particularly with the issue of race shifting which has been raised by Aboriginal leaders.

In the 1980’s the federal government adopted this definition which is likely to be used re the Voice:

“An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he [or she] lives.” (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2010)

Pearson, as a prominent member of the Referendum Working Group and a major architect of the Voice who has worked closely with Leeser and other constitutional lawyers on the Voice for some years, came out with a vicious attack on him, insinuating that it was a Nazi-type question.

Considering that Leeser is Jewish and Pearson chose Passover to make this antisemitic comment, this attack is astounding, abusive, and calculated to do the most harm. Pearson said:

“I am wondering whether Julian expects us to wear a tattoo identifying ourselves as Indigenous,” 

“Or our clothes should be adorned with some kind of badge identifying us as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.” Financial Review 12.4.23 Also, Credlin, Sky News 10.4.23

Pearson said this on 10 April and the next day, Leeser resigned the shadow portfolios of Attorney-general and Indigenous affairs, moving to the backbench to support the Yes Campaign for the Voice to Parliament referendum.

It has been reported widely that his decision is a result of his party, the Liberal Party taking a position on 5 April to oppose a constitutionally enshrined Voice, binding shadow ministers to support the position. 

As a man of conscience, Leeser wanted to be free to campaign for the Voice though he would like to see its scope reduced to advising parliament and not executive government as well. This is because of the delays this would cause and the legal actions it would spark.

Also, if executive government is removed, more people will vote yes in the referendum increasing its chances of getting over the line. He has said he will campaign for a yes vote even if he can’t get his recommended changes through.

While this was the major reason, I believe it was also Pearson’s searing comments that drove Leeser to resign.  Leeser has, along with other constitutional conservatives, helped shape the Voice so the public rebuke would have hurt a great deal.

According to the Financial Review article cited above, Pearson has publicly apologised but has not phoned Leeser. 

Leeser’s response was gracious, expressing his disappointment at the remarks and their timing. He said those supporting the Yes case should do so in a civil manner:

“I was very disappointed in Noel’s claims. He made those remarks during Passover,” he told Chris Kenny on Tuesday.” (Sky News 11.4.23)

The Australian Jewish News reported:

“Pearson told The AJN this week, ‘If any of my friends in the Jewish community were distressed by my choice of words then I’m completely apologetic for that.

I’ve got many Jewish friends over a long period of time who have supported me and my cause.’

He explained the question was ‘highly offensive and incendiary’ and ‘resonates with racists about who is Aboriginal and who is not’.”

Gareth Narunsky 13.4.23

Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton have also received verbal spears from Pearson, Dutton being called a Judas at Easter and the Senator as “punching down on other blackfellas”. Is this the kind of voice we want to entrench in the constitution?

Signed: Norman Miller, Ph 0407128199

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