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Adjournment Speech: Gun Control

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 16 Nov 2016

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:04): At the end of last month, along with 38 other people, including health workers, people who work with victims of domestic violence, people affected by homicide, relatives of people who have committed suicide, academics, unionists and people in the legal fraternity, I signed a letter to the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan. These are excerpts from the letter. The full copy can be read on the Guardian of 25 October this year. The letter commences:

Australia’s gun control laws are the envy of the world. Since the landmark 1996 national firearms agreement … our state, territory and federal firearms laws have been focused on the goal of ensuring community safety. We believe that any review of the NFA must have direct input from gun control advocates and be focused on community safety.

The letter goes on to state:

At present the Australian government is undertaking a review of the NFA. We support an unbiased review of the NFA that addresses any loopholes and weaknesses in the country’s gun control laws. One weakness is the error in classifying the six shot Adler A110 shotgun as a category A rather than category C firearm. Related to this is the failure to make the temporary importation ban on the eight-shot Adler A110 permanent. However there are many other pressures on our gun control laws that deserve national attention.

So it is with real concern that we see you have organised repeat official meetings to discuss changes to the NFA with the firearms industry and the pro-gun lobby in the form of the Firearms Industry Reference Group. At these meetings you have informed the gun lobby representatives that the review of the NFA is:

“… an opportunity to simplify the national firearms agreement to assist the firearms community,” and

“… the government is keen to simplify the regulations and the bureaucracy to lessen red tape for firearms users.”

The Firearms Industry Reference Group contains representatives from government departments and the Sporting Shooters’ Association, the National Firearms Dealers Association, Shooting Australia and the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia. It contains not a single gun control or community safety advocate.

They are some excerpts from our letter to Minister Keenan. Again, I draw your attention to the language. What this letter reveals is a very serious development. He is referring to the National Firearms Agreement—that is, the agreement brought down by former Prime Minister John Howard in 1996—and he is calling it 'red tape'. And he talks about the commitment of the Turnbull government, effectively, to assist the firearms community. What we should be assisting here—what the National Firearms Agreement was about and should still be about—is public safety. A very worrying trend has been revealed in those comments by the minister.

What I want to deal with tonight is this very unhealthy relationship between the gun lobby and the New South Wales government. The examples that I will give are troubling, but they could well give an insight into what could possibly be starting to unfold at a federal level with regard to how the National Firearms Agreement is playing out. Because what we have seen in New South Wales are attempts to water down firearm laws and regulations. It has become a common feature of New South Wales politics for about two decades. Labor and coalition state governments have been striking deals with the Shooters and Fishers Party to weaken gun laws, expand the number of shooting ranges and pick up funding packages for sporting clubs. Deals between the government and the shooters party have resulted in savage cuts to victims' compensation, workers' compensation, cutbacks on public sector workers' pay and conditions. And then we have had the deals around electricity privatisation and ports privatisation. At the same time, there has also been a push to have hunting occur in our national parks and in our state forests. These are some of the issues that I wanted to detail tonight, because it shows a very unhealthy relationship in terms of how deals are made and how legislation that is bad for the community in the first place is often made even worse because it is off the back of dangerous changes to laws that should be promoting public safety.

To start, I would like to go back to 2002, when the Game Council was introduced in New South Wales. That did not just come about in 2002. In a very useful speech by the first Shooters Party MP in New South Wales, Mr John Tingle, he set out all the hard work that he put into it. He was elected to the New South Wales parliament in 1995. He was a member of the crossbench at that stage, and it was reported that about once a week he would have a cup of tea with the former Premier Bob Carr to work out their tactics, because the crossbench obviously played a critical role. From early on, I understand, Mr Tingle worked hard to get this Game Council up.

So the Game Council came in as a statutory authority to administer hunting in New South Wales. It was made out that it was this wonderful body that would manage feral animals. Again, some of the people who work in this area are often quite revealing in the comments that they make, so what you see fairly early on is that there was a lot more going on here. It was really about promoting hunting in general and particularly about building an awareness and to pull more people into shooting and hunting.

I cut to the 2013 report of a review of the Game Council. The Game Council, throughout its 11-year history, was extremely controversial. It was controversial when it was introduced—I was in the state parliament at the time—and it became more discredited as time went on. This report in 2013, from the Game Council itself, really put the icing on the cake or the final bullet in the coffin for the Game Council—however you want to refer to it. The report said:

The Game Council has its roots deeply embedded in politics.

So that is what we are unpacking here: how so many of these decisions are deeply embedded in politics. There is the language from the shooters themselves. I will start again:

The Game Council has its roots deeply embedded in politics. It was established because of, and has grown with, the influence and power of the Shooters and Fishers Party in the NSW Legislative Council.

It goes on:

The legislation establishing the Game Council was passed in 2002 but the work leading up to that point had been going on for many years.

It goes on to talk about creating awareness and the focus on promoting the value of the service.

I want to add a little aside here, because what is not included in that report but is important to put on the record is the role played by the highly discredited former Labor minister Ian Macdonald, who ran into so much trouble with ICAC about various coalmining deals. He also had his grubby fingers all over this deal, and so many times, when we would argue and debate and work to get this legislation defeated in the New South Wales parliament, he would get up there and boast about what a great contribution it was. It was a way to control feral animals and it was really about conservation, and all the other lies that he would put forward. But what he would regularly say, as a justification for the Game Council, was that it was saving the government money because it was self-funding—another one of Mr Macdonald's lies. It was never self-funding. This Game Council bled money from the New South Wales government and therefore the public of New South Wales.

So the bill to establish the Game Council was supported by the then Labor government, with solid support from the coalition. That again is the theme that you will see as I work through these deals. The Game Council, as I said, was eventually removed. Mr Tingle said that he first suggested the bill to the then Minister for the Environment, Pam Allan, and he says that she was very enthusiastic about it. I will just put on the record some of the comments from some of the people who worked on it. This is some useful material from a November 2012 article in The Australian:

The Carr Government established the Game Council in 2002 at the behest of John Tingle, ostensibly to regulate hunting. But according to David Dixon, who worked as communications manager at the organisation from 2007-10, it's little more than a government-funded lobby group which spends much of its $3.9 million budget on promoting hunting and devotes little energy to monitoring hunters. Dixon told this magazine that few, if any, illegal hunters were prosecuted during his time at the Game Council, and the council's email system became a conduit for propaganda of the type spread by the National Rifle Association in the US.

To move on, I think, of all the deals that were done, the one that I found most troubling was around the weakening of apprehended violence orders—particularly to do with domestic violence. I always found this extraordinary when it came about in the state parliament. Again, Labor were in power at the time—this was in 2008. John Hatzistergos was the Labor Attorney-General at the time. He was in the New South Wales upper house, so we debated this issue a number of times. This is how The Sydney Morning Herald described it:

MEN who have previously been the subject of apprehended violence orders will be given the right to have the orders revoked so they can regain gun licences. The deal was cut by the Shooters Party with the Government and Opposition on the last parliamentary sitting day of the year.

That is a day when we know it is so hard to get proper scrutiny. They go on to state:

Under NSW law, anyone who was the subject of an apprehended violence order lost the right to a gun licence for 10 years.

But under an amendment successfully moved by the Shooters MP Roy Smith to the Domestic Violence Act on Thursday, it will now be possible for those who have been subject of an apprehended violence order that has expired to have the order revoked.

That is absolutely shameful. Once again Labor, Liberal, Nationals and Shooters were voting together. At the same time you would see those people out there talking about their concerns about domestic violence, and there they were doing something as shameful as that. It was making it easier for men who are violent to get their guns back.

What we also see is that that debate with Attorney-General Hatzistergos was absolutely disgraceful. It was a very complicated set of amendments—it went to about three pages. Initially he provided no explanation of what the changes were, because they came in at the last minute. After much pressure from the Greens he offered a short explanation along with his usual characteristic rudeness, so it certainly was not a pleasant debate. This issue was revisited in 2011 when the shooters party introduced legislation to the New South Wales parliament that was aimed at allowing firearm owners who become subject to an apprehended violence order to keep their weapons until they received a letter in the post from the Police Commissioner revoking their licence. That overturned how things previously occurred. Again, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on this in some detail.

Because of the shortness of time, I will move on to some of the other examples. Electricity privatisation and hunting at national parks were two of the places where you saw the clearest deals from a government that was desperate to get its shocking legislation through. They were selling off our electricity system and, at the same time, doing a deal to allow shooters to go into national parks. By that time the coalition was in power in the New South Wales parliament, and it was in late May 2012 when the New South Wales government and the shooters party agreed on this deal. As I said, that was a really clear stitch-up because the electricity privatisation bill went through on 30 May 2012—the vote was passed 20 to 17. By then the Labor Party, as they often are, were a different beast in opposition. They found some decency on this issue and were starting to resist what the government was up to in these deals with the shooters and fishers, so I note that. So the electricity privatisation bill went through at the end of May, and the deal that was to be struck had already been on the record. In a media release on 30 May—the day the legislation was to go through—Mr O'Farrell had actually said:

… the agreement came after the Shooters and Fishers Party sought and received additional employment protection for power station workers.

That was the excuse he gave. But, on the same day, there was another media release where he talked about feral animal control in national parks and that they would allow shooting in 79 of the 799 national parks in New South Wales. That is one in 10 national parks that allowed shooters to shoot in them to supposedly hunt. At the end of May, the privatisation bill went through. Two weeks later the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill went through. Again, the vote was 20 to 17, with the upper house split along similar lines.

What became interesting then was that there was understandably a huge outcry. Like, who has ever heard of shooting in national parks? It is the exact opposite of what you would expect to go on in national parks. The community was outraged; environment groups were outraged; there were just so many letters in the paper. So the government started to get worried. It reneged to some extent on the deal with the Shooters Party. Well, that is what it seemed to be in the first instance. When they came to open up the promised 79 national parks they allowed shooting in only 12 national parks, so the shooters got very cranky and talked about how they had been done over. But then what happened? You had to follow the trail, and obviously this had been worked out. What did the shooters then come up with? That they would get an expansion of duck hunting. Now, again, you need a little bit of history.

Back in the 1990s there were huge protest movements. Many people were very distressed about what was happening to our native wildlife and the animal cruelty aspects of the issue, because ducks and many of our native wild birds were being shot. People, who were very courageous, would collect them out of the wetlands and bring them to our parliament and line them up. I saw them in the Victorian parliament and the New South Wales parliament. Then in 1995 Labor came in and banned duck shooting. What happened? The shooters came up with a plan—obviously negotiated. While they had lost out on national parks and they could only go hunting in 12 national parks, they got an agreement out of the O'Farrell government that they would reintroduce duck shooting. Now, again, it was dressed up in fancy language—as conservative governments do these days when there are up to no good—talking about how it was a way to control pesky ducks who were eating the rice and doing other bad things in rural areas, but at the end of the day it allowed native ducks to be shot by shooters across New South Wales.

Now part of the deal—and I guess when it was behind closed doors and the coalition were setting out what they want to get out of this deal, everybody was probably getting a bit testy with each other, because who can trust who—was that they negotiated the support of the shooters for the privatisation of the ports: the Port of Newcastle and Port Kembla. Again, this was shocking legislation that sold out people. Privatisation and selling off assets is certainly not done for the public good. So, who announced the deal about allowing the shooting of our native wild birds? The Minister for Roads and Ports, Mr Duncan Gay. What he had to do with the supposed plan to control the pesky ducks down in the Riverina was a bit of a stretch to work out, but there he was announcing it. This was all part of the way New South Wales politics worked in terms of delivering on these deals and setting them in stone. What was clearly understood is that the reason Mr Duncan had to make that announcement was to help lock in the shooters so that the deal was done. The minister for ports and the minister who required their votes to sell off Port Kembla and the Port of Newcastle would deliver on allowing those shooting activities to go on when it came to killing wild birds.

Another area was public sector wages and conditions. In 2011 the New South Wales government passed legislation to cap public sector salary increases. Again, how did they get it through? With the support of the shooters and fishers. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Premier said that they could rely on the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Christian Democrats to determine wages and conditions and what was fair. And what did they get in return for that one? What was set out was that state forests would be opened up to recreational hunters and a five-year moratorium on new marine parks in New South Wales was to be implemented. Again those issues were linked in a very deeply immoral way. That was widely reported in the regional press. The Macleay Argus covered it; the Tweed Echo covered it—and they really documented how these deals were played out. It was called the war on the environment— (Time expired)

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