News People Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to quit politics after colourful, controversial career

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to quit politics after colourful, controversial career

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion during Senate question time in November. Photo: AAP
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has called time on nearly two decades in federal politics, announcing he will not recontest his Northern Territory Senate seat at the impending election.

Senator Scullion is the third minister to announce his resignation in the past week, in a major blow to the Government’s re-election hopes.

Human Services Minister Michael Keenan and Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer have both announced they will not recontest the election, saying they want to focus on their families.

Senator Scullion made his announcement on Australia Day.

“It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve the people of the Northern Territory for the last 17 years in the Australian Senate; I thank all Territorians for their support over this time,” he said.

The camel-shooting, former mackerel fisherman Country Liberal Party senator, who sits with the Nationals in the Upper House, managed to maintain his Cabinet position during the reshuffling of three prime ministers during two tumultuous terms of Coalition government.

Prior to this, he spent a brief stint as community services minister in the Howard government before the election of Kevin Rudd in 2007.

“My path to public office wasn’t a conventional one,” Senator Scullion said.

“I was just an everyday fisherman and some-time buffalo shooter, and I raised my three beautiful children Sarah, Daniel and Luke on a fishing boat off the coast of Gove and North East Arnhem Land.”

His knowledge of the Territory and Aboriginal life in remote communities kept him in good stead during a difficult and at-times controversial tenure as Indigenous Affairs Minister.

“John Howard famously said the Coalition is a very broad church and the fact that it has allowed a bloke like me to sit around its Cabinet table shows just why it continues to be the party hardworking Australian families keep putting their trust and faith in,” Senator Scullion said.

“It has been my privilege to have served as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs over the last five years.

“I am grateful that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have welcomed me in every corner of this continent that I have visited, and worked with me in providing local and national solutions.”

He thanked the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for asking him to continue to serve as Minister for Indigenous Affairs until the results of the next election were known.

“Tomorrow, I will wake and continue to do all I can to serve Territorians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” he said.

Mixed results on hallmark policies

Despite his extended period in politics, many of his hallmark Indigenous affairs policies and programs battled to gain serious headway.

Remote community school attendance rates continue to struggle, while Aboriginal work-for-the-dole programs are riddled with issues despite multiple revamps.

And Closing the Gap targets have made little ground since the policy’s introduction by Kevin Rudd in 2008.

There were also complex issues such as the Blue Mud Bay sea rights case and the Uluru Statement of the Heart debate, which he will leave without having seen a conclusion.

Colour and controversy in the spotlight

Mr Scullion faced the scrutiny of the national media in 2016 when he said a child prison scandal at Don Dale Detention Centre in Darwin “hadn’t piqued my interest”.

He voted in favour of One Nation’s “It’s OK to be white” bill in 2018 before apologising and acknowledging it “downplays racism and historic injustices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians”.

Ongoing controversy over the distribution of Indigenous Advancement Strategy funds was another lasting mark of his time in power.

A colourful character on the political landscape, the outgoing Minister was handcuffed to a stripper’s pole in a Russian nightclub in 2007, which he told the ABC at the time was a “terrific” night out.

“Don’t let anyone handcuff you to a post and make sure you always wear clean underwear,” he said.

Nigel Scullion and Cape York Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson at the Garma Festival near Nhulunbuy, East Arnhem Land in August last year. Photo: AAP

Relationship with strong leaders

Mr Scullion forged relationships with some of the nation’s strongest Indigenous leaders including Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Noel Pearson and former Northern Land Council chief executive Joe Morrison.

He helped facilitate township leases over a number of remote NT communities, including Mr Yunupingu’s Gunyangara, in a bid to push for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination.

Mr Scullion was the first federal minister on the ground to assess the situation in Tennant Creek after the rape of a two-year-old girl last year.
His successor as Indigenous affairs minister will be unknown until after the next federal election.