Shooting Senator has retirement in his sights

When politicians finally chuck it, many cite a desire to spend more time with their family away from the endless demands of public life. Some go on to second careers in business, academia or working for worthy organisations.

Not so Northern Territory Senator and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, who announced he was quitting well before the Federal Election and has his retirement all figured out. “I’m out of here shortly and am really looking forward to shooting field and game wherever I am around the world. I’ll continue my focused assistance with feral animals across Australia,” he said. “If I was a wild pig, a duck or a mud crab I’d be starting to get nervous.

“That’s the only plan I have - to eat more mud crabs, catch more barramundi and shoot more wild pigs. I have no plan beyond that. I’m retiring.”

Senator Scullion said one of the great regrets about whatever you did in life was what you were not doing. “I’m a very keen shooter and keen fisherman but just haven’t found any time. People who think there’s free time in this place haven’t done it,” he said from Parliament House on the day the election was called.

“I’m very much looking forward to spending a lot more time in the country instead of having to race out somewhere, shoot half a dozen pigs and a few dogs and suddenly have to race back again. Now I don’t have to.”

During his time in Canberra, Senator Scullion managed the occasional rabbit shooting foray to a property near Cooma, south of Canberra. The bunnies were head-shot using .22 and 17HMR rifles, dressed and Cryovac sealed on the bonnet of a car in the field, then stored in a freezer out the back of Parliament House for anyone who wanted a feed of rabbit. “I just gave away the last of the rabbits from the freezer to some of the parliamentary cleaners,” he said.

Nigel Scullion, who turned 63 in May, was born in London and in his younger days lived variously in the UK, Malaysia and Malawi. He grew up around guns. “There was lots of stuff to shoot, there were guns everywhere and it was all part of life” he said.

“In 1985 when I arrived with Jenny in the Northern Territory, I knew our search for a home and a place to start a family was over. You’ve never seen such a place,” he said in his first speech to the Senate in February, 2002.

Subsequently he worked across a number of industries including mining, fishing, maritime salvage, security and engineering. Among the qualifications listed on his parliamentary bio is professional fisherman, owner and operator of various marine businesses and head of industry bodies such as the Australian Seafood Industry Council (1996-2001). Much of the time he lived aboard a fishing boat, raising three children - Sarah, Daniel and Luke. In 2001 he filled the Senate spot vacated by long-time NT Country Liberal  Senator Grant Tambling.

The north has always produced colourful characters and among his more newsworthy achievements, pre-politics, was having his trousers pulled down while handcuffed to a stripper pole in a nightclub in St Petersburg, Russia in 1997. That came about when he attended an international fishers conference as a member of the Australian delegation.

“Don’t let anyone handcuff you to a post and make sure you always wear clean underwear,” he said when the story emerged a decade later. The revelation was never going to lose him votes in the NT, just as Kevin Rudd’s admission he attended a strip club in New York probably won votes.

The buffalo-shooting fisherman managed to maintain his Cabinet position through three prime ministers during two tumultuous terms of Coalition government but lately Senator Scullion has been actively preparing for retirement. “I’ve been reloading pretty steadily for the past four months. I think I have about 1800 rounds ready to go so look out wild pigs,” he said.

“I’m not absolutely sure but I think I have around 30 firearms.” Those includes hunting rifles, shotguns and antiques. The Senator is a big fan of .308 Winchester. “I have a whole suite of rifles I use and have probably have half a dozen 308s. People  ask why a bloke needs so many rifles but two of them are owned by my sons.

 “Probably my favourite which I take everywhere as I can deal with most things - if you can see it you can kill it - is a 308 H-S precision rifle. It’s an absolute tack driver.” It’s fitted with a Nightforce 5.5-22x56 scope. “I haven’t shot what they shoot in their indoor range of  a .16^ group but I shoot well under half an inch often.”

Other rifles include one in .375 Holland and Holland from when he was shooting buffalo and backing up clients on hunting trips, as well as an Anschutz in .222 Remington. “That was one of 1700 imported in 1972. I know that because I’ve been trying to find a magazine for the past five years and have just had one made in Melbourne. I shouldn’t have lost it in the first place,” he said.

Then there’s the shotguns which include self-loading Remington models 11-87 and 1100 and a Browning BT for down the line. “I don’t shoot as much with it any more. Since I got into field and game I’m at the top of B Grade. I pick the gun up every couple of years and can still shoot pretty reasonable scores,” he said.

His antiques include a muzzleloading Purdy double rifle and a black powder rail gun with 1.5^ bore designed for ship-to-ship combat in the age of sail. In the past he carried a Smith and Wesson in .44 Magnum while out in the bush but at the moment there are no handguns. In retirement, that may change.

Senator Scullion has loaded his own ammunition for around 20 years and says that came about through his work as a professional shooter and a desire for instantaneous kills through head shots. “When I established that was now what I did, I didn’t shoot things just anywhere. It’s a personal thing - suddenly the actual accuracy of the rifle became more important,” he said.

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