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Noel Pearson on hunting the radical centre

  • Date recorded: 20 Oct 2016

  • Duration: 39:06

'My interest is in the radical centre: this is the place where those in search of a better society might best hunt.'

– Noel Pearson

About this video

Noel Pearson delivers a bracing Keith Murdoch Oration on the topic 'Still hunting the radical centre: revisiting Daniel Patrick Moynihan 50 years later'.

Noel outlines the legacy of US intellectual and Democrat politician, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan's 1965 report on black poverty, The Negro family: the case for national action, analysed the causes of black poverty and argued that the Negro family was the starting point of the community's disadvantage, its 'tangled pathology' the cause of their social and economic distress.

Noel describes responses to Moynihan's controversial report as split between those who saw it as a rallying cry for black self-determination, and those who saw in it an alarming 'blame the victim' manifesto.

The intervening 50 years have shown that these responses need not be opposed, says Noel, and that individual agency and social obligations might balance rather than repudiate each other.

To that end he asserts that the 'radical centre', where social good is underpinned by economic reform, is the 'sweet spot' that unites high ideals with hard pragmatism. He names Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and 'above all' Paul Keating as key proponents of radical centrist politics.

Noel outlines ideas for securing the radical centre on poverty and disadvantage by fighting for both structural reform and Indigenous agency on the fronts of empowerment, recognition and cultural embrace. 

Finally, Noel shares a short film about an inspiring young girl of his acquaintance, to demonstrate his hope for the future.

The 2016 Keith Murdoch Oration was held on 20 October 2016.

About the Keith Murdoch Oration

The Keith Murdoch Oration raises funds to support the work of State Library Victoria, and to recognise the Library as a centre for excellence in the world of ideas and information.

The Oration also reflects the Library's commitment to promoting debate within the community about knowledge and culture.


Noel Pearson is the Founder of the Cape York Partnership and Co-Chair of Good to Great Schools Australia. He is an activist and a History and Law graduate of the University of Sydney.

Noel comes from the Guugu Yimidhirr community of Hopevale on South Eastern Cape York Peninsula. His goal is to enable Cape York’s Indigenous people to choose a life they value by reinstating the rights of Aboriginal people to take responsibility for their lives.

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