After 17 years in the Senate, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced that he will not re-contest the next election.
In a statement released on January 26, he said it was a privilege to have served as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and “the greatest honour of [his] life to serve the people of the Northern Territory.”
“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 said.
Director of Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Murrandoo Yanner said he had a “great deal of respect” for the outgoing senator.
“The thing I most admired about him was his upfrontness,” he said. “As unpopular as some of his policies may have been, he didn’t hide like other ministers have done.”
Recently, Minister Scullion came under attack for approving a grant of $150,000 to the Northern Territory Seafood Council—funds earmarked to combat Indigenous disadvantage through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
But Mr Yanner noted that there were achievements too, such as the appointment of the Expert Indigenous Working Group in the COAG Investigation into Indigenous Land Administration and Use.
He said Senator Scullion genuinely respected the Indigenous representatives of the committee and the group was consequently successful in preventing amendments to the Native Title Act.
“Scullion appointed a very radical group of Aboriginals who didn’t play ball and he in no way pressured or asked us to,” he said.
Mr Yanner said Senator Scullion made major improvements in Northern Australia, including boosting the economy in remote communities.
He said the senator had also been a supporter of Aboriginal ranger groups which are “playing a vital role across Australia for their environment and science work.”
According to Mr Yanner, the ‘word on the street’ is that the next federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister will be one of the Indigenous senators already in parliament.
The current Indigenous senators are Pat Dodson, Linda Burney and Malarndirri McCarthy, all from the Labor party.
Mr Yanner said while he believed the incoming Indigenous Affairs Minister should be Indigenous, it was “just a band-aid solution.”
“We need self-governance,” he said.
“You’ve got the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff and even the bureaucracy within the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry’s office that can out-reign the [Minister for Indigenous Affairs].”
“It’s almost as if [the Indigenous Affairs Minister is] a back-bencher,” he said.
He said while the Senator Scullion was non-Indigenous, he had “a better knowledge” of Indigenous life in remote communities than any other minister.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Bunuba woman June Oscar said she wished Senator Scullion “all the very best”.
“He has been a strong supporter of our Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project and I thank him for his efforts to get the project up and running,” she said.
He is the third senator to resign after Human Services Minister Michael Keenan and Jobs Minister Kelly O’Dwyer both announced they would step aside from politics.
The senator held his ministry under three prime ministers.
By Andrea Cantle