NSW Greens are raising concerns over the number of arms fairs and the lack of scrutiny of applications for arms fairs from NSW police.

Material obtained by the Greens under freedom of information laws reveals that between 2012 and 2014, 21 arms fair permits were approved by NSW Police, with only one being refused. Despite being requested, the details of any criteria for approval are not publicly available.

Arms fairs have been in the spotlight following the recent approval of “Huntfest” in Narooma, sponsored by the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA NSW), which the Eurobodalla Council approved in spite of 80% of resident submissions opposing it.

Council approval and public consultation

Huntfest is being held annually on public land in Narooma.  In 2012, Huntfest was first approved by the Eurobodalla Shire Council for 2013 only as a photographic and media competition with food stalls.  But for 2014 Huntfest amended its licence conditions (approved by council for 5 years) to display firearms, bring hunting simulators, and conduct archery courses in a shipping container.

For 2015 Huntfest has sought to amend its licence to have guns and other firearms for sale and a mobile rifle range.  A public consultation followed, where over 80% of resident submissions opposed the arms fair, but non-residents made submissions with 80% support.  An online petition opposing HuntFest with 40,000 signatures was also presented to council by Greens Councillor Gabi Harding.  In October 2014, a petition signed by 940 opponents of HuntFest was presented to the Legislative Assembly, asking for intervention to rescind the arms fair licence.  Despite the local opposition the council approved the 2015 Huntfest in its new form.

Arms fair licences issued by NSW Police

Only NSW Police can issue Arms Fair licences.  David Shoebridge, NSW Greens Spokesperson on Firearms, applied through freedom of information laws for access to any NSW Police guidelines, standard operating procedures, or other evaluation documents for police evaluating Arms Fairs Permit applications.

Nothing was produced, suggesting that there is very little formal quality assurance in the process.  In NSW, between 2012 and 2014, NSW Police only refused one Arms Fair Permit (2013 in Muswellbrook).  21 applications were approved: Bathurst, Wagga Wagga, Cessnock, Penrith, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Narooma, Maitland and Inverell.  Licences can be issued for 5 years.

The NSW Commissioner declined to disclose any of the arms fair applications, meaning that the public cannot see for themselves the quality of the applications or the risk assessments.

Greens MP and Local Government spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“Our research shows that in the last 3 years, NSW Police have approved 21 arms fairs and refused only one.

“NSW Police have been unable to advise the criteria on which arms fair permit applications are determined, so it looks very much like they are simply rubber stamped.

“People across the state are rightly concerned about arms fairs and their impact on public safety.

“Narooma residents do not want an arms fair in the centre of their town, and they have every reason to be concerned that annual weapons markets will lead to more guns and a less safe community.

“In approving annual arms fairs, the Eurobodalla Council has ignored 80% of their own residents by allowing public space to be used to promote a gun and hunting culture that is inconsistent with the region’s reputation for tourism and natural beauty.

“Gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and it should be preserved for those people who can demonstrate a genuine reason for owning a firearm.

“Arms fairs only do one thing, and that is promote a culture of guns and hunting, they have no place in a peaceful society that is looking to reduce violence.

“The fact that Huntfest organizers can impose an unwelcome gun culture on a peaceful seaside town like Narooma shows the need for a far more careful approach to gun control in NSW.

“The obvious place to start is a more restrictive policy on arms fairs, that respects the wishes of local communities, and acknowledges arms fairs’ unhealthy role in increasing gun ownership,” Mr Shoebridge said.