The Public Health Association Australia (PHAA) is a founding member of the Australian Gun Safety Alliance (AGSA) along with many organisations concerned about firearm safety in our community.
Australia’s gun reforms following the Port Arthur shooting in 1996 has been recognised by PHAA as one our Top 10 public health successes of the last 20 years. At the time 90% of Australians supported the bipartisan approach to the introduction of a National Firearms Agreement (NFA) that established a national framework for the regulation of firearms. The Agreement established the principle that firearms possession and use is a privilege that is conditional on the overriding need to ensure public safety. That level of public support continues today.
Despite this national approach, the expectation of the public, the support of major political parties and nearly 25 years after the tragedy, not a single Australian jurisdiction is fully compliant with the NFA. Examples across states and territories include having firearm license periods twice as long as the NFA states, children as young as 10 being able to get a firearm permit, no ID being required to buy ammunition, no limits on ammunition, no cooling off period for subsequent guns and silencers being permitted.
This is primarily a result of the power, influence, and resources of Australia’s gun lobby.
The gun lobby is different to many of the other commercial interests that plague good public health policy. There are currently 21 elected representatives in Australian parliaments that are from parties with published policies aimed at relaxing Australia’s gun laws, undermining the NFA, and showing open support towards the gun lobby. This representation is a result of the gun lobby’s clear strategy of focussing on minority government and obtaining the balance of power, especially in the upper houses of Parliament.
The Australian Parliament also has a very active Parliamentary Friends of Shooting group. Despite the guidelines insisting there be no sponsorship of Parliamentary Friendship Groups, the Shooting Industries Foundation of Australia (SIFA) regularly organises activities.
The chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting is the Hon Sen Bridget McKenzie MP, who is a well-recognised advocate for the shooting industries.
This photo shows some MPs at the annual shooting event held every year at the Canberra gun range. The group has an annual Christmas shoot for the Canberra Press Gallery.
The Australia Institute published a report in 2019 that showed the Australian gun lobby is comparable in size and funding to the American National Rifle Association (NRA), but that its political influence is more subtle.
Last year Al Jazeera uncovered senior One Nation Party officials courting donations from the NRA in order to “hold a gun to the head of the Australian Government”. This is not particularly surprising since some Australian shooting groups have been liaising with the NRA since the early 1990’s.
The gun lobby funded campaigns in the Queensland election in 2017 and Victoria in 2018 that were specifically designed to promote minority government, controlled by supporters sympathetic to the gun lobby. This is straight out of the NRA strategic playbook.
The Queensland campaign was managed by SIFA, and was targeted at seats that benefitted Pauline Hanson One Nation (PHON) or Katter Australia Party (KAP) candidates. Funding for the campaign came from SIFA, SSAA-QLD, Queensland Firearms Dealers Association, Nioa and Privately Owned Queensland Businesses (firearm dealers). The Nioa Corporation and related family entities are the largest donor to the KAP and also Australia’s largest supplier of firearms to the Australian government. Mr Robert Nioa is Mr Katter’s son-in-law.
The Shooters Union Australia also weighed into the election. They actively supported PHON by recruiting volunteers to hand out how to vote cards in the lead-up to the election. Shooters Union Australia President Graham Park said the Queensland’s Government’s signing of the NFA was the main reason he wanted to lend a hand.
SIFA ran a similar campaign in the Victorian 2018 election. The campaign was labelled ‘Not.Happy.Dan.’. The objective was to put the ALP last when voting. SIFA contributed between $165-220,000, in addition to time and resources to the campaign.
Once again, SIFA ignored the issue of firearms in the campaign but followed the NRA strategy of wedge politics on unrelated issues to their core business. They sought to become relevant in the political debate by raising a range of issues unrelated to firearms. SIFA Executive Director Rod Drew said: “SIFA ran a campaign, Not Happy Dan, to highlight several policy deficiencies in diverse areas, important to all Victorians, including high energy prices, the level of crime in Victoria, skills and labour shortages and improved access to public lands”.
The gun lobby was the only sector that took legal action against the WA, Queensland and Victoria governments after these governments closed gun shops following a doubling of firearm acquisition permits and ammunition sales at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia is entering a political cycle that will see all nine jurisdictions going to the polls in less than three years. We can expect increased campaigning directly and indirectly by the gun lobby.
The Queensland election will be held on 31 October. AGSA has written to all the major parties to seek their views on firearm policy in Queensland and the National Firearms Agreement.
Firearm policy will play a big role in the election. The Katter Australia Party has received nearly 80% of their donations from the firearm industry. One lobby group is “endorsing” candidates.
In an effort to withstand their efforts to further water down or undermine the NFA, the Australian Gun Safety Alliance was formed in 2018. It is a group of like-minded organisations that seek to represent the views of 90% of the Australian population who support our current strong gun safety framework, or in fact would like it to be strengthened.
The Alliance is coordinated by PHAA member Stephen Bendle who works with the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. The Foundation was established after the tragic mass shooting in Port Arthur in 1996. There, young sisters Alannah & Madeline Mikac, along with their mother Nanette were killed by a single gunman.
Its goals are to hold all jurisdictions to account for their commitment to the NFA and to ensure an alternative voice in the debate on firearms in the community.
Building a stronger voice within the community has helped broaden the debate and counter misleading information disseminated by the gun lobby. The Alliance is now recognised by all governments as representative of the community with an interest and understanding on the issues of gun safety.
 The Age, 26 June 1993 (The SSAA hosted the NRA in Adelaide)
Stephen Bendle is a member of the PHAA and coordinator of the Australian Gun Safety Alliance. He is also Advocacy and Campaign Advisor at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.