BY THE NATIONAL REPORTING TEAM’S JAMES THOMAS
Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson is regarded as one of Australia’s most eloquent public speakers. His eulogy at Gough Whitlam’s funeral: oratorical brilliance. Away from the pulpit, his words can take a nasty turn.
“Arse coverer”, “maggot” and “bucket of shit” were some of the bullying words used by Noel Pearson to abuse senior staff at Education Queensland, according to a letter obtained by the ABC.
Dated June 3, 2016, the letter is written by the director general of Education Queensland, Dr Jim Watterston and addressed to the founder and co-chair of Good to Great Schools Australia, Noel Pearson.
“Dear Noel…When we met on 25 May 2016, I felt there were several times you behaved in an intimidating manner and made inappropriate comments (I clearly recall pejoratives such as ‘arse coverer’, ‘maggot’, and ‘bucket of s***’, to name a few),” Dr Watterston wrote.
“Where I draw the line, however, is when similarly intimidating and abusive behaviour is directed towards my staff”.
The ABC understands Mr Pearson apologised for his comments — which were an expression of his displeasure with Education Queensland’s handling of the Cape York Academy’s Aurukun school. The Aurukun school briefly closed after violent threats towards staff earlier this year.
The education department runs the school in partnership with Good to Great Schools Australia.
The organisation has received $37 million in taxpayer funds since 2010 to help lift education standards for disadvantaged communities through the delivery of an American teaching method, Direct Instruction.
In the letter, Dr Watterston cautioned Mr Pearson.
“The behaviour displayed towards me and my staff is not conducive to a respectful and cooperative relationship, and cannot continue,” he wrote.
‘I went home at night feeling very uneasy’
The letter’s revelations come after an ABC investigation reported poor business practices at Good to Great had left government funds vulnerable to fraud and official misconduct.
“I went home at night feeling very uneasy about some of the transactions which were occurring, which did not sit right with me,” said former executive principal of the Cape York Academy, John Bray.
Mr Bray told the ABC he felt pressured by Good to Great staff to make inappropriate payments from the school’s bank account.
“There was expenditure occurring on particular things such as flights, accommodation for particular support services which I thought were not reasonable,” he said.
“Ultimately, I think the kids did miss out.”
Good to Great rejects bullying claims
Head of governance at Good to Great, Michael Andrew, denied Mr Bray’s allegations.
“We would never be in a position where we would override the decision of the principals,” he said.
Noel Pearson’s spokeswoman Kerie Hull added to the denials saying “there have never been any findings of bullying, unfair dismissal or WorkSafe matters” at Good to Great.
However, the ABC has obtained several internal letters of complaint addressed to Good to Great’s board members. The letters raise serious concerns of bullying, harassment and intimidation within the organisation.
In one internal complaint a former employee described the culture at Good to Great as “toxic”.