Barry O’Farrell today announced a deal between his government and the Shooters Party which will deliver two outcomes that the majority of residents of NSW do not want – the privatisation of the state’s electricity generators, and recreational hunters in national parks.
This isn’t an implied arrangement; it is a blatant horse-trade. As the Premier said in his media release today, “the Government has decided to expand the culling program to allow smooth passage of legislation to sell the State’s power generators.”
As well as being a grubby deal, the announcement of hunting in national parks makes a liar of Barry O’Farrell, who said in April 2011, “the Coalition will not trade policies for the sake of sectional interests.” The Office of Environment and Heritage wrote in a letter to Julie Cook dated 19 July 2011 “the NSW government does not support hunting in national parks on conservation or other grounds”.
These types of deal have unfortunately become a common feature of NSW politics. Both the O’Farrell government and the Labor government before it – rather than debate and negotiate each piece of legislation on its merits – have horse-traded with the Shooters party and other right wing micro parties to push through contentious legislation in return for concessions in other areas.
These deals have consequences – the overarching one being the slide towards a pro-gun and hunting culture in NSW.
Following the 1988 election loss of the Unsworth government, the NSW Labor Party erroneously related the result on the attempt by the then Premier to tighten up gun laws. This myth fuelled close relationships between the shooters movement and some senior Labor leaders.
From 1999 to 2003, with 13 crossbenchers in the NSW Upper House, Labor had its work cut out securing enough support to pass legislation. In return for former Shooters MP John Tingle’s support on many issues, shooting organisations made many gains.
From 1998 to 2001 the Shooters Party secured over $5 million in additional funding for shooters clubs. Several new shooting ranges and regional shooting complexes were built by taxpayers.
As John Tingle said: “It should be said that one or two anti-gun oriented media persons have grumbled about “so much” money being given to shooting. Let them grumble! I have lobbied the Government very hard for this funding, and I apologise to nobody for getting it.”
In 2002 a deal between the Shooters Party and the then-Labor government saw the establishment of the Game Council NSW, which nominally oversees the regulation of amateur and recreational hunting of feral animals on public land in NSW, and of which current Shooters Party MPs, Robert Brown and Robert Borsak, are both former chairmen.
This statutory body was supposed to be self-funding, but has received an average of $1 million a year in public funding from the government ever since. It has no independent monitors, regulators or authorities – the shooters police themselves.
The creation of the Game Council has given false legitimacy to the fringe views of the shooting lobby, and has seen an endless stream of publicly funded lobbying for the introduction of fringe right-wing pro-gun laws.
These efforts include, but are in no way limited to, the introduction of silencers, the creation of game parks, sneaking pro-hunting materials into primary schools, and currently a proposal to allow children as young as twelve to hunt unsupervised on public land.
Duck hunting was reintroduced under the Orwellian guise of Game Bird Mitigation.
With the creation of the Game Council 142 state forests were declared open for hunting for recreational hunters. Four years later, in 2006, another 39 state forests were opened, again for a five year period.
Now more than 2 million hectares of state forests are open for hunters to stab, spear, gore and shoot feral animals in.
Over the last two years of the former Labor government there were over thirty amendments to NSW gun control laws, including expanded access to firearms for security guards and the introduction of Section 6B of the Firearms Act, which enables people to handle and be trained in the advanced use of firearms without any kind of background check.
This one grubby deal paved the way for the tragic death of Lalin Fernando, who was shot and killed by his mentally ill daughter in 2010, when she was given ready access to a semi-automatic hang-gun after ticking a box to say she had no mental illness.
It did not take the O’Farrell government long to start making concessions to the Shooters. Just a month after Barry O’Farrell had said he would not cut deals with the shooters party, state forests were re-declared open for hunting for a record ten years, without any meaningful public consultation. Now we have the extension of recreational hunting into national parks, a poor outcome for the public, for animal welfare, and for the environment.
The Shooters Party is an unashamedly one-issue party. As Shooters MP Robert Brown said to the Daily Telegraph in 2009, “we just want people to get off our backs and leave us (shooters) alone, and that they then support the government of the day as long as their “constituents received an occasional concession.”
These “occasional concessions” are having a direct impact on our state. Since 2001 gun numbers in NSW have increased from 619,643 to 758,802, which is a 22 per cent increase.
More guns and more hunters with more and more access to public land:
Welcome to politics, NSW style – you had better bring a flak jacket.