KATE O’TOOLE: Senator Nigel Scullion how is you this morning?
SENATOR SCULLION: Great thanks Kate, what about yourself?
KATE O’TOOLE: I am not too bad. What do you make of these country Liberal leadership rumblings this morning?
SENATOR SCULLION: Well look, while we did not have exactly the same thing in Queensland or New South Wales, what these Conservative governments have in common is that they will inherited this completely nightmarish legacy of debt so they have immediately had to do the responsible thing, and they need to find ways to ensure we are a reflection of our income. So they are actually making cost savings, all those sort of things. So whether you are New South Wales, Queensland or in the Northern Territory the government of the day is surely not very popular after the election because they are onto the business of putting things right, and so it is…
KATE O’TOOLE: So, did Robyn Lambley deserve to take the fall here?
SENATOR SCULLION: I actually do not know if she is taken the fall, all I have heard this morning is that I understood she resigned last night. I have no understanding at all what is behind that resignation. But it is reasonable to say that for some time there has been some tension within the Country Liberals and I find it completely understandable, and it was not dissimilar to what happened in Queensland and New South Wales in the Senators that were organ be very unpopular for a while. When the public do not like you because you are doing things that are necessary, then things in terms of your internal structures are always under pressure…
KATE O’TOOLE: So is it a failure of nerve then that the Country Liberals have not been able to just hold their nerve then?
SENATOR SCULLION: Well I do not think it is a matter of nerve, I think they are doing pretty well, but it is a very, very difficult time. These are difficult times and it is very difficult to be in public office and to be so unpopular – and so much pressure from the media. I think the ruptures we are seeing now I just simply a function of that. But I have to say, I was in Tennant Creek with the them all just a few weekends ago and look, I know I am on the right team I can tell you that. They are all about Territorians; they are not focused on introspection. These are blips, and I’m very heartened by the depth of the plans they have – I had people like Dave Tollner come and see me, Adam Giles came and see me in my capacity as a shadow federal minister to talk about a whole range of issues, and to get some views about where we are going to go in the future. And I have to say the territory is in really good hands. This is a bit of a blip, and like all blips it will pass and will get on with business.
KATE O’TOOLE: and will Terry Mills still be the leader when you do? Because we have heard from Ken Parish earlier today ‘Terry’s days are numbered’, we have heard from Jane Bardon who has spoken to a number of people within the Country Liberals this morning about possible scenarios that are playing out where Terry Mills leadership is looking pretty dicey, to say the least.
SENATOR SCULLION: Yeah, Terry Mills’ leadership has looked dicey on at least a dozen occasions and he still there today.
KATE O’TOOLE: so will the leadership speculation continue while he stays there?
SENATOR SCULLION: look, I am not sure. I really do not know. All I can do in my mind, Kate, is compare it to other places. Yes, we get leadership speculation that one just continue because someone remains. One of the great things about the Country Liberals is that we do have some broad-brush capacity across the Cabinet. I have absolutely no idea what is going on at the moment because I have been working in pretty remote areas of the Territory and Western Australia but this seems to be a part of political life.
At a federal level, we inoculated ourselves against this sort of speculation by just being extremely well disciplined. Nobody’s spoken about, and nobody is even thinking about leadership changes and it enables us to focus on the main game. This is always difficult, but this was almost unavoidable given the legacy of destruction and debt that Delia Laurie left the territory in. Fixing this is not going to be easy, never was going to be.
KATE O’TOOLE: There have been several things which have not played well for the Northern Territory government here, and one of them just this week with the Federal Court ruling against the container deposit legislation and the lack of a COAG exemption that would have allowed the scheme to continue. What are you doing to help the Northern Territory government out there? Are you trying and get a bit of a hand from WA?
SENATOR SCULLION: well one of the issues here in terms of COAG, while somebody says ‘if COAG can possibly provide an exemption’ … if you know anything about the agenda of COAG this is going to be sometime in the future. These are ongoing matters, I will be working very closely with the Country Liberals in this regard, it is something that as a Territorian and, I do not think has worked as well as it should have. I think there is an awful lot of lessons in that, but since it is Northern Territory legislation are certainly have a role, in terms of what we put up to COAG but I have yet to hear from any of my counterparts in the Country Liberals that regard us thus far.
KATE O’TOOLE: do they have an approach you on it, as an issue, despite the court case happening?
SENATOR SCULLION: Well it has only been a week, I have been out of touch that time which is why I am not able to comment further on the leadership speculation but I have no doubt be in touch with me when they hit the ground back in Darwin shortly. I am getting a brief on it all, so I’ll know more about it at that stage.
KATE O’TOOLE: it has been more than a week really, considering this issue has been looming since they took government in August/September… I will just make that point.
SENATOR SCULLION: Whilst that is quite true, but let us be clear. There is no doubt that this particular legislation, that puts in container deposit is Labor’s legislation. It was put in place under the previous government and I think some of its unpopularity, and its failure to thrive are basically due to the previous government. This is an opportunity to the Country Liberals to get it right – yes we have got the court case that says the whole thing is a nonsense and there are wider implications Australia wide in that regard. But in terms of this legislation, I think everyone acknowledges that Labour could have done it better and we should take the opportunity to learn from that.
The Coca-Cola stuff was not out of left field, but it was very hard to anticipate what that would be and what that would mean. This is now a matter for all the states and territories who are pontificating on what this means that that jurisdiction, which is why this will be something that will come up at COAG.
KATE O’TOOLE: I wanted to speak to you a bit about alcohol policy, Jenny Macklin flew into the territory last week and she wants to send independent assessors into some central Australian hotels. What is your response to this; should there be this intervention and oversight from the federal government when it comes to alcohol policy in the territory?
SENATOR SCULLION: Well, I have to say I do not think there is an (inaudible) of difference between the position of the Country Liberal party, the Coalition federally, or Macklin federally – we all seem to believe in the same things. What I do not understand, is that it just seems to be a weapon of mass distraction from Macklin. They would not like us to focus on anything else, so will just appear in the Northern Territory and take the territory government on. Now will threaten them ‘if you do not do this, we will do this’ when in fact the only way to do this is with a partnership agreement from the Northern Territory. So all this hairy chest beating is a complete waste of time and is completely counter-productive and I am sure it is a distraction from other things. We all agree that the community should have a say over actually happens in those communities. We all know that that means the nature of the consultation has to be more of an exacting science. I have been on the public record and said “more alcohol and communities, I have never seen that is a good thing”. That is my own personal view, and that is pretty much the view across the process.
KATE O’TOOLE: Does that mean you do not support individual communities deciding for themselves about what amount and level of alcohol should be sold?
SENATOR SCULLION: I have always said that the communities themselves should decide, and by and large having been to many communities and disgusted many of the community’s, including running surveys, run by the communities themselves on that matter I do not think that with a whole bunch of new pubs landing in the communities any time soon. The feelings in those communities are very strong, and strongly felt, and they feel confident that if someone comes to talk about pub, everyone’s got have a say. Not just the three of four blokes loitering near the gate.
KATE O’TOOLE: so should full strength alcohol be sold in these communities if that is what they want?
SENATOR SCULLION: That is a matter for the community, there is no point asking me that. I will always be advocating within the community to have a precautionary principle. Sure you can have full strength, but maybe that means you can have one beer a day… I am not sure. There are all these mixtures, and all sorts of things that are out there. My view is, and my instinct is that the majority of these communities will not have any changes in alcohol. It is difficult enough holding the measures that are in place, where they are in place. And those people that do not have a wet canteen, I think at the end of the day will say or there are some very good reasons historically why we have not had that, and we do not want that to change.
KATE O’TOOLE: You are listening to mornings, Kate O’Toole with you and I am speaking with the Senator Nigel Scullion this morning.
Jenny Macklin says that the BDR if it were to be reintroduced would reduce alcohol-related harm.
SENATOR SCULLION: I feel very sorry to Jenny, and the Prime Minister vicariously. As you know 12 days out from the election Delia Laurie put out a media release basically saying “look, the BDR has in itself reduced the number of assaults associated with alcohol”. What we all know that now is that those figures, I would suspect mischievously at the time given the context of the NT election had been moved. And they taken the domestic assaults associated with alcohol…
KATE O’TOOLE: That was public information at the time. That was not something that was hidden…
SENATOR SCULLION: Hang on, hang on… yes, but since then, sadly, you cannot view that information that has been manipulated to make it look like something that it is not. The BDR has not helped a soul, the BDR… the Banned Drinkers Register has not worked.
All it does in terms of its final compliance point, it says “you are going to be on a list” and as we know someone has been arrested, has been on the list, he has been arrested 117 times. Now been on a ban drinkers register is not a problem to this guy. It does not stop you drinking in pubs, the only thing it can do is to stop you personally driving up in your car, or walking through a bottle-o and saying “I want to buy this alcohol” – that is the only thing it does. If you think about the bush, where were we have a lot of these challenges they do not have any takeaways. It does not apply there.
KATE O’TOOLE: a lot of people on the ground have been arguing that it should be reintroduced though, Pastor Basil Shield – he says the average age of death, according to funeral data at the Lutheran church in Alice Springs, the average age of death for aboriginal men in that parish is 47. He does not say that this is the only thing that should be done but he thinks that clearly there should be a bigger effort than is currently being undertaken.
SENATOR SCULLION: I have spoken to Basil, it is not 47, it is 44. Basil is somebody who I have a great deal of respect for, and I respectfully have a different point of view. There is no evidence, there is no evidence at all that says the ban drinkers register has prevented anyone from getting access to alcohol. All it does, it is part of this notion that drunks need to belong in the justice system that you will be barred and then you will be arrested…
We need to move people who have a problem with substance abuse in to the medical system, they need to be healed. They are not healthy, they are ill, this is not their choice.
KATE O’TOOLE: last week Senator, you said that you go wrong on the apology to the stolen generation, that you should never have opposed the apology at the time. What convinced you of that?
SENATOR SCULLION: well first of all I did not oppose the apology at the time, it was a personal view that I had, and I shared it with no one. But I was just very cynical about what the apology would actually do. I used to on a weekly and monthly basis of stand in communities where the gap was so far, you could not see the other side. And I was thinking, someone saying ‘Sorry’ is not going to fix this. So I was fairly cynical about that, and what I was reflecting on in my contribution to the Senate is that I was wrong. It really affected a lot of people, people told me how much better they felt, it affected people in a whole range of ways. So I was simply saying even cynics like me who have been taught the lesson of history do not think that symbolism does not have a real, practical impact on the ground. It is not only about symbolism, it is also about practical effect on the ground. How people feel, how well they are, how engaged they feel with the wider community. So when I was speaking about the recognition of our first people in our Constitution I said “well that is my lesson” I have that others who may feel as cynical as I did take my historical readjustment of my thoughts into consideration when they are thinking about supporting this very good constitutional amendment.
KATE O’TOOLE: That is acknowledging a lack of judgement on the consequences of indigenous policy, isn’t it? If you acknowledge that lack of judgement what makes you sure you have it right with other elements of your indigenous policy now.
SENATOR SCULLION: Well my only lack of judgement, according to some people, would be my default to honesty. I think it is about time in this matter were all a bit fair dinkum about it, what I said is that I was a bit cynical about what the apology would do and I am quite sure that there were a lot of other people. Now they may never say that but in trying to encourage Australians to move forward I think that reflecting my own circumstances, which were intimately involved with the entire process would be very useful. I do not think it shows a lack of judgement at all. If my judgement is to be more honest with Australians than others are, I will stick with my judgement.
KATE O’TOOLE: Senator Nigel Scullion thank you so much speaking with me this morning.
SENATOR SCULLION: Lovely to talk to you Kate.
Download this audio file