SCOTT, Douglas Barr (1920–2012)
Senator for New South Wales, 1970, 1974–85 (Australian Country Party/National Country Party/National Party of Australia)

Douglas Barr Scott was born in the northern Adelaide suburb of Prospect on 12 May 1920 to James Barr Scott and his wife Clara Josephine, née White. At the time of his birth Scott’s maternal grandparents lived in Adelaide, but the family home was on their wheat and sheep property, ‘Glenview’, near Grenfell, New South Wales. As the property was relatively isolated, his early schooling was conducted at home via correspondence, but when Scott was nine years old, his family moved to Adelaide, where he attended Adelaide’s Scotch College for seven years, boarding for the final two years which allowed him to complete both his leaving and leaving honours examinations at the school. After school, he returned to Grenfell, worked on the property and studied Latin. In 1938, he took a South Australian Latin exam, coming top of the state. The exam gave him the necessary qualifications to enrol in a combined Arts/Law degree at the University of Sydney; two years later he interrupted his studies to enlist in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve. During World War II he saw service in the then-Australian territories of Papua and New Guinea. Discharged in October 1945 with the rank of Lieutenant, Scott returned to university but took the decision to abandon his law degree, and graduated in 1946 as a Bachelor of Arts majoring in economics and history. A keen sportsman, he represented both his college and his university in football, cricket, tennis and athletics.

In Sydney, Scott met Pamela, daughter of Dr I. A. McLean of Forbes. On 6 April 1948 the couple married at St Stephen’s Church in Sydney and returned to Grenfell, where Scott took charge of the family property, finding success as a farmer and grazier. The couple went on to have a son and a daughter.

Scott later explained that his interest in politics was initially driven by ‘ever increasing tax burdens’ and a desire to help Australia find markets for its primary produce. He joined the New South Wales Country Party in the mid-1950s and within two years he had become the chair of the local Grenfell branch. In subsequent years he took on a range of roles within the party, including chair of the Calare electorate council, member of the central council and member of the central executive. His party work, his extensive involvement in community organisations and his chairmanship of the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association all lifted his profile within the party.

On 13 April 1970 the death of Country Party Senator Gerald Colin McKellar left a casual vacancy in the Senate. At the joint sitting of the New South Wales Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly held to fill the casual vacancy, Scott was chosen to fill the vacancy and first sat in the Senate on 6 August 1970. Scott’s first period in the Senate only lasted three and a half months as, under the terms of section 15 of the Constitution prior to its amendment in 1977, a senator who entered the Senate via a casual vacancy held his seat only until the next Senate election, which, in this case, happened to fall on 21 November 1970—the last time a Senate election was held with no accompanying election for the House of Representatives. Scott chose not to contest this election as he thought fellow Country Party Senator Thomas Bull ‘the logical candidate’ for the seat. As a result, he returned to Grenfell to resume work as a farmer. However, in 1973 he decided to nominate for preselection as a Country Party Senate candidate for New South Wales. He justified his decision on grounds that it would have been ‘somewhat ungrateful not to pursue’ further the opportunity presented to him in 1970. He won a seat in his own right at the 1974 double dissolution election, and was re-elected in 1975, 1980 and 1983.

Scott made his first speech to the Senate on 2 September 1970, having only a few opportunities to contribute to debate during his first term. In his first speech he outlined his political philosophy, noting his belief in the family unit as the building block of society. He argued for ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘maintenance of the profit motive’, while noting that true freedom requires levels of restraint. He also stated that ‘we must learn to temper pure theories, whether they be economic or otherwise, with social and political considerations’.[1]

Upon his return to the Senate in 1974 Scott spoke regularly in debates on Australia’s primary industries, including wool, wheat, dairy, beef, petroleum and minerals. He argued that the government should continue to provide ‘intelligent compensations’ to these industries to support them through crises caused by price fluctuations in global markets. He also addressed workplace relations measures, including union regulation, involving himself in every debate on the various conciliation and arbitration bills introduced between 1974 and 1979, and subsequent amendments.

In debate on the Family Law Bill (No. 2) in 1974, which aimed to remove the necessity of proving fault to obtain a divorce, Scott argued unsuccessfully that the proposed measure be delayed to allow for more deliberation, given that it touched on matters of ‘such fundamental importance’. He stated that the bill ‘does more than just provide for a change in the law of divorce. It will make … a fundamental alteration to the very nature of the marriage contract and in doing so it must change the entire pattern of family life in the Australian society’.[2]

Scott expressed a conservative determination on most matters that he took to be of fundamental importance, arguing that Parliament should not be quick to rush into change. In 1984, during debate on Senator Durack’s Flags Amendment Bill, he said: ‘Change is inevitable in our society. Of course there will be change. The important thing is that we maintain a measure of control over the rate of that change’. Later that year, the proposed removal of references to ‘Her Majesty the Queen’ from the oath and affirmation of allegiance contained in the Australian Citizenship Bill 1984 provoked Scott to assert:

… there seems to be a tendency to reject anything that belongs to the past, certainly to the relatively, in Australian terms, distant past. There seems to be a tendency to divorce oneself from tradition, which is to divorce oneself from the evolutionary process which all honourable senators who have an interest in history will recognise is the only process that has produced any measure of permanence in the progress of mankind.

To Scott the Senate played a crucial role in controlling the rate of change as he later explained: ‘I think that that sort of braking force, a provision of time, is one of the really important elements in the contribution which the Australian Senate makes’.

A further recurring theme for Scott was the need to protect the federal structure of the Commonwealth from change, including preserving the distinctive role of the Senate. He contributed to debates on the provision of tied Commonwealth grants to state and local governments, spoke to the Commonwealth’s claim of sovereignty over offshore lands used for mining activities, and justified the decision taken by the Coalition in the Senate to not consider appropriation bills in 1975, ultimately leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. Yet, where the political circumstances of the day warranted his acquiescence to Coalition policy, Scott occasionally argued for exceptions to his conservative stance. For example, in 1975 he argued that the Whitlam Government’s proposal to ensure simultaneous elections of the two houses ‘would destroy the very significance of the Senate in the Australian parliamentary system’, while in 1977 he accepted that a similar proposal would not result in ‘any direct reduction in the power of the Senate’.[3]

In 1975 the Country Party was rebranded the National Country Party, and a year later Scott was elected deputy leader of the party in the Senate. Two years later he was elected Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of Committees, serving as Acting President for two brief periods in 1979. Scott later recounted that after a week or so as Acting President he had received a message from Labor senators John Button and Don Grimes, stating that they were determined to support him as President because they liked the way he read prayers. As Prime Minister Julia Gillard remarked in 2012, during condolences, to ‘have John Button gently tease you was one of the highest honours’ that the ALP could bestow upon a politician at the time.

Scott resigned from the position of Deputy President on 10 December 1979 after having been appointed Minister for Special Trade Representations in the Fraser Government two days prior. The promotion came in the wake of fellow National Country Party member Ian Sinclair’s resignation from the ministry in response to an accusation and subsequent charge of forgery. Scott’s appointment was reported as being a means of keeping a ‘NSW National Country Party ministerial seat warm’ for Sinclair, and so it proved to be, with Scott resigning eleven months later to allow an acquitted Sinclair to return to the ministry. Scott explained at the time that the government ‘needed Mr Sinclair’s capacity as a parliamentarian and his vast experience’. During his brief term in the ministry Scott led trade missions to a group of ASEAN member nations and to a group of European nations.[4]

After the retirement of Senator James Webster in February 1980, Scott was appointed Leader of the National Country Party in the Senate. On 16 October 1982 the federal conference agreed to drop the word ‘Country’ from the party’s title, making Scott the Leader of the National Party of Australia in the Senate, a position he retained until his retirement in 1985.

Scott’s period as leader of his party in the Senate coincided with the 1983 election defeat of the Coalition. Following this defeat Scott was appointed shadow minister for veterans’ affairs, a post he held until December 1984. This period also saw a brief split in the Coalition parties. In 1983, in contrast to their Liberal colleagues, National Party parliamentarians voted to support Hawke Government legislation to increase the size of the Parliament. The bill would not have passed the Senate without this support. Scott cautioned that he had not ‘suddenly become beholden to the socialist political philosophy’; rather, he noted that an increase in the number of members in the House of Representatives had enjoyed long support of the National Party, as rural electorates had become unmanageably large. In a departure from his generally cautious attitude to constitutional reform, Scott also expressed his support for removing the nexus provisions in section 24 of the Constitution, to allow the House of Representatives to expand without altering the number of senators.[5]

Scott served for relatively short periods on a range of committees, with the exception of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of which he was a member for eight of his eleven years in the Senate. During his time as chair of the committee (1981–83), he attracted controversy for declaring that the committee had determined not to inquire into allegations of atrocities committed by Indonesian forces on the island of Timor. Scott justified this ‘committee’ decision by suggesting that it was unwise to inquire into ‘internal matters of other countries’. His claim that the decision was taken by the committee was strongly contested by other members, who argued that the committee had made no such resolution. The committee did not address the topic while he was chair, but after Scott had been replaced by Labor Senator Gordon McIntosh as chair. In September 1983 the committee, under the chairmanship of McIntosh, tabled a report on The Human Rights and Conditions of the People of East Timor. Scott, together with Liberal senators David Hamer and David MacGibbon, dissented from the report arguing that the evidence the committee had heard was out of date and incomplete. In 1982, during Scott’s chairmanship, the committee tabled a bipartisan report on the progress made in settling the 60 000 Indo-Chinese refugees that Australia had accepted over the preceding years. Scott noted that although this ‘is the first time that Australians have been exposed to sizeable intakes of people racially and culturally different from previous settlers … the evidence overwhelmingly points to a general acceptance of the new settlers’.

Scott believed that ‘foreign affairs … significantly involves securing the type of society that we as Australians seek to pursue’. He articulated this political philosophy not just through his committee work but also through regular contributions to Senate debates on aid policy, the global arms race, foreign investment and international trade, and defence policy.[6]

Reflecting on his Senate career in his valedictory speech, Scott noted that although he had ‘an opportunity to serve in almost every capacity—in Opposition, in government, as leader of parliamentary delegations, for a short while as a minister, as Deputy President of this chamber for nearly two years, and in a range of other areas’—he was conscious that he was ‘never anything for very long’. He left it to ‘honourable Senators to determine the reasons for that circumstance’.

Upon his retirement, Scott was praised by Senator Don Chipp as a ‘gentleman and a gentle man’, an evaluation echoed by senators in the chamber at valedictories.

After leaving the Senate Scott returned to his property near Grenfell and to the lifestyle that he ‘knew so well, to get closer to stock husbandry, to the farming industry, closer to the sights and sounds of the land’.

Scott died on 12 March 2012 in Forbes, New South Wales. During condolences New South Wales National Party Senator Fiona Nash lauded his ‘enormous contribution to the Senate, regional communities, and the nation’.[7]

Michael Sloane

[1] ‘Profile: Senator Douglas Scott’, House Magazine, 26 Oct. 1982, p. 3; Transcript of interview with the Hon. Douglas Barr Scott by Mr Robert Linford, Oct. 1985, POHP; CPD (R), 15 March 2012, p. 3102; CT, 14 April 1970; NSWPD (J), 6 Aug. 1970, pp. 4956–7; Harry Evans, ‘Filling Casual Vacancies before 1977’, Biographical Dictionary of the Senate Vol. 3, UNSW Press, Kensington, NSW, 2010, pp. 573–4; CPD, 2 Sept. 1970, pp. 419–22.

[2] CPD, 10 July 1974, pp. 45–8, 19 Nov. 1974, pp. 2510–13, 17 March 1976, pp. 583–5, 13 Oct. 1976, pp. 1170–2, 23 Oct. 1975, pp. 1437–40, 24 Sept. 1974, pp. 1325–8, 28 May 1975, pp. 1936–40, 3 June 1976, pp. 2348–51, 10 Nov. 1976, pp. 1840–2, 1 June 1977, pp. 1773–6, 2 June 1981, pp. 2482–4, 26 Nov. 1981, pp. 2637–9, 16 Feb. 1982, pp. 46–50, 19 Oct. 1984, pp. 2052–3.

[3] CPD, 21 Nov. 1974, pp. 2690–2, 25 Feb. 1975, pp. 408–10, 26 Feb. 1975, pp. 485–7, 22 Oct. 1975, pp. 1358–62, 16 Nov. 1976, pp. 1966–9, 24 Feb. 1977, pp. 405–6, 4 Oct. 1984, pp. 1262–4, 9 May 1984, pp. 1843–4; POHP.

[4] Senate, Journals, 17 Feb. 1976, p. 8; CPD, 15 Aug. 1978, pp. 4–5, 31 May 1985, pp. 2946–7; CPD (R), 15 March 2012, p. 3101; CT, 28 Sept. 1979, p. 1, 15 Aug. 1980, p. 1, 19 Aug. 1980, p. 1; AFR (Syd.), 10 Dec. 1979, pp. 1, 2; Media Release, Senator Douglas Scott, 25 Jan. 1980, 30 April 1980.

[5] CPD, 20 Aug. 1981, pp. 178–80; Senate, Journals, 21 Feb. 1980, p. 1143, 29 Nov. 1983, p. 507; CPD, 18 Nov. 1983, pp. 2877–9.

[6] CPD, 16 Feb. 1982, pp. 30–2, 14 Oct 1981, pp. 1169–72; CT, 15 Oct. 1981, p. 11; Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, The Human Rights and Conditions of the People of East Timor, Canberra, 1983; POHP; CPD, 17 Nov. 1981, pp. 2212–13, 10 Nov. 1981, pp. 1947–9, 29 April 1981, pp. 1474–6, 1 Dec. 1982, pp. 2976–8, 29 March 1984, pp. 927–9.

[7] CPD, 31 May 1985, pp. 2946–7, 2975–80, 15 March 2012, pp. 1899–900; CPD (R), 15 March 2012, pp. 3101–2; POHP.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, Vol. 4, 1983-2002, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2017, pp. 26-30.

Auspic DPS

Auspic DPS

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1970, 1974–85 (CP/NCP/NPA)

Deputy President and Chairman of Committees, 1978–79

Minister for Special Trade Representations, 1979–80

Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Resources, 1979–80

Leader of the National Country Party (from 1982 the National Party of Australia) in the Senate, 1980–85

Senate Committee Service

Estimates Committees A, 1970, 1976–78; C, 1974–75; D, 1970; E, 1981, 1983–85; H, 1981–83

Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, 1970

Joint Committee on Prices, 1974–75

Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, 1974–75

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1974

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1976–78

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1976–80, 1981–85

Standing Committee on National Resources, 1977–78

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1978–80

Committee of Privileges, 1978–80

Standing Orders Committee, 1978–79

Publications Committee, 1981–85

Select Committee on Animal Welfare, 1984–85

Scrutiny of Bills Committee, 1985