A Tribute To Nigel Scullion, The Worst Indigenous Affairs Minister Since The Last One

Nigel Scullion

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

It has been said, on a number of occasions, that Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion should listen to the voice of Indigenous people – or leave. Was Scullion listening after all? With slapstick timing, Scullion announced his resignation on Australia Day 2019.

Perhaps he’d even heard the strong messages of the Indigenous-led movement to #ChangeTheNation?

Or maybe, after five years of being the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, he knows the era of Mission Managers is over?

Scullion, A Country Liberal Party senator, will maintain his position of Minister for Indigenous Affairs until the next election is announced. At that point, after representing the Northern Territory for seventeen years, the former professional shooter and fisher will retire from political life.

Let’s take a moment to remember some of his greatest moments in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio:

The date is fine, leave it be

Scullion is fine with Australia Day staying on 26 January, and is not offended that the day also marks the start of the British invasion of Aboriginal lands. And all his friends are fine with it too.


Vegemite Moonshine

Who can forget Scullion’s call to control the distribution of Vegemite in remote Aboriginal communities, because he’d heard a rumour of an impending crisis due to people using it as a base for home-brewed alcohol?

Nothing about that rumour was true, but it was pretty racist.


Lamb chops for everyone

Getting caught topping up the Australia Day party budget from funds that were supposed to be allocated to Indigenous programs was quickly forgotten, after the Minister announced it was an ‘administrative error’.

Where have we heard that excuse before?


It’s ok to be white – isn’t it?

Scullion, along with the Coalition and numerous Independent members in the Senate, backed One Nation’s motion that it’s ok to be white.

Upon remembering that this was an actual globally-known neo-Nazi and white supremacist slogan, a re-vote took place the next day. And the whole sorry affair was written-off as a regrettable ‘administration error.’


When sorry is the hardest word

Whilst in opposition, Scullion was opposed to the Rudd government’s apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who’d been removed during the Stolen Generations policy eras.

Scullion later spoke of regret for not backing the apology to the Stolen Generations, but he’s still not fully committed to addressing the harm caused to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that were removed.


Looking after mates

For years, Scullion’s handling of Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding has been heavily criticised in independent reviews, media, and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, peak bodies and organisations.

Funding that used to be allocated to essential Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, such as health and family support programs, instead went to: football clubs, non-Indigenous companies with inadequate experience working with Indigenous communities and mining companies. And even to help non-Indigenous lobby groups oppose the rights and aspirations of Indigenous communities.

That Gap is never going to close when there’s that much back-scratching going on.


Who needs a voice when you’ve got Nigel?

Like other Coalition members, Scullion is strongly opposed to changes proposed within the Uluru Statement. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs isn’t keen on giving Indigenous people what they want, because “It’s my job, mate […] you don’t want a Voice to parliament.”

Perhaps Scullion doesn’t really understand what is actually being proposed? Maybe he’s the one “fluffing around on the job”? (Another classic Nigel turn of phrase)

Out to dinner

Undoubtedly the most unforgivable area of portfolio neglect, during his time as Minister for Indigenous Affairs, is failing to address discrimination and systemic racism within policing and justice.

Many times, Scullion appeared to lack awareness of the need to reform social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And has even been accused of not understanding the seriousness of Indigenous incarceration rates, deaths in custody and torture of Aboriginal youth in detention.

As to the breaking news of widespread child abuse within the NT Don Dale youth detention centre – it had not “piqued his interest”. Instead, going out to dinner was a bigger priority.

This was yet another instance that sparked Indigenous people to call for Scullion to resign from the position of Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Countless times, Scullion has retrospectively expressed regret for not acting in the best interest of the people his portfolio is supposed to represent – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Finally, he has made the right move and resigned.

Bye, Felicia

What’s next for Nigel No Friends? Apparently, he’ll be catching crabs and shooting pigs. Perhaps he’ll have some time to reflect on his role within Indigenous Affairs, while washing blood and guts off his moleskin jeans.

Scullion’s announcement heralds the end of the unholy trinity in a government that has consistently failed to deliver on key aspects of Indigenous Affairs. Now, there’s two more to go – at the very least.


Karen Wyld, a Martu descendant living on Kaurna Country, is a freelance writer, author and consultant.