The state of play - SSAA branches meet to discuss firearms issues

Next year will mark 20 years since the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) was enacted by the former conservative Howard government. This year, SSAA National has confirmed that a review into this historical agreement is underway, with authorities pointing to the Sydney Siege as the official catalyst.
While SSAA National protects firearm owners’ interests at the federal level of government, each SSAA state and territory branch is responsible for representing its members to its respective government. Our Federation and NFA have given the state and territory governments the power to manage firearms legislation. But what are the common issues the SSAA faces across the jurisdictions, and what are some points of contention in each state and territory?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ‘temporary’ ban of the Adler A110 lever-action shotgun in late July put our nation’s tough gun laws back under the media spotlight. Much to the angst of shooters around the country, uneducated comments that lever-actions are “new rapid-fire technology”, despite having been around since the 1800s, added fuel to the fires of the bellies of our members who were having flashbacks to 1996.

At time of writing, SSAA National has just met with the Attorney-General’s Department and is talking to Justice Minister Michael Keenan’s Chief of Staff about the decision and lack of consultation to date. The SSAA will continue to push for consultation of key industry groups, including the SSAA, to take place before any changes are implemented, and we will keep our members updated as more information comes to hand.

When it comes to the structure of the SSAA, our members are actually full members of, and are routinely assigned to, the state or territory branch in which they reside. This ensures membership money flows back to the relevant jurisdiction to maintain and acquire new ranges, run the offices, and assist each president and board in tackling the politics to ensure firearm owners’ interests are protected.

Representatives from each jurisdiction gathered in Adelaide recently to discuss a variety of issues our sport and pastime is facing, which gave us the opportunity to draw similarities and differences faced across our Association. Held in Adelaide on July 11 and 12, all states and territories were represented, along with National staff.

Tasmania

Tasmania has been reviewing its laws since public consultation kicked off in 2010, but any issue concerning firearms is approached with hysteria by anti-firearm groups, including Gun Control Australia and Tasmanian resident Roland Browne. After a period of inaction by the previous minority Labor/Greens Government, the new Liberal Government sought to address this matter, with mandatory sentencing for firearms theft part of a broader policy platform on sentencing. It became apparent that mandatory sentencing was unlikely to succeed; however, the government persisted and was unwilling to negotiate some parts of the Bill that would have disadvantaged SSAA Tasmania members.

Member for Rumney and ex-police officer Tony Mulder summed up the situation in a speech to Parliament earlier this year, saying, “Now is the time to get some sensible, practical gun laws. Laws that do not demonise decent honest people who go about enjoying their sport, conducting their business free from hype, and from the panic that surrounded Port Arthur, but we messed it up. Instead of starting from scratch, instead of a greenfield approach, instead of tabula rasa, we tried to tinker with an Act that went way beyond what was needed. If it was needed then, I do not think it is now. This so-called consultation has been a hugely missed opportunity. Twenty years later would have been a good time to get the Act focused, simplified and consistent. Instead we get tinkering and adjustment.”

In the final wash-up, shooting organisations convinced the Upper House to make some significant changes, including reducing the legal age for hunting to 14, with a significantly reduced supervision requirement of a one year full licence, not five years as was suggested. SSAA Tasmania also successfully lobbied against potentially pervasive new clauses around ‘physical possession’ of a firearm, and stronger (not mandatory) sentences for firearms theft.

SSAA Tasmania President Andrew Judd said although the Upper House will continue to debate new storage requirements and penalties, including electronic security requirements for any number of handguns and 10 or more longarms, these issues will now be part of a regulatory process. “While storage requirements are still up for discussion, we have secured a Regulatory Impact Statement to see what costs this will have on licensed firearm owners,” he said. “Furthermore, having established our credentials to be part of this debate, we are expecting the government to give us some direct input into this next phase.”

Western Australia

A review into firearms legislation will also occur in Western Australia, with the Firearms Act 1973 in much need of amendment. The outdated legislation has had piecemeal modifications over some time, with a commonsense approach resulting in a user-friendly Act with less red tape badly needed. This is a key issue that SSAA WA is lobbying for.

SSAA WA President Ron Bryant said this, and other questionable legislation, is actively being pursued with the current Liberal National Government and Police Minister Liza Harvey. “Western Australia has quite a few laws and regulations in place that, quite frankly, do not bring any public safety benefit and are almost unworkable for the state’s licensed firearm owners,” he said.

Ron also said that a recent decision against trialling a recreational hunting system in the state, despite proven successes in other states, is also being addressed by SSAA WA. “Consultation is continuing with the government, and the SSAA WA CWM Branch has been flagged for possible use in existing and future expanded government programs,” he said. “We are also tackling the animal liberationists head on, as well as groups such as RSPCA WA, who published a series of offensive advertisements against recreational hunting during the public consultation period. This resulted in a government inquiry into the organisation, spearheaded by Shooters & Fishers Party Rick Mazza MLC.”

The SSAA WA is also closely monitoring the review into the NFA and will continue to lobby for a better deal for firearms owners.

New South Wales

You could be forgiven for thinking firearms legislation in a state that experienced the Sydney Siege would be the first target for any government to link public safety, with further onerous restrictions on those not at fault. Although the inquiry into the incident at Martin Place, which has since been declared a terrorist act, is said to have resulted in the current NFA review, it doesn’t appear that the current NSW Liberal National Government has reacted negatively when it comes to licensed firearm owners.

The NSW Government is considering introducing new laws regulating the sale of realistic toy guns after a youth was photographed strolling through Martin Place with a firearm that some believed looked realistic. Otherwise, the NFA is the other key item on the agenda.

SSAA NSW President Paul McNabb said a positive relationship with the head of the NSW Firearms Registry Bruce ‘Bluey’ Lyons and senior staff is proving beneficial. Open consultation has been key to ensuring that the state’s licensed firearm owners don’t pay the price for criminal- and bikie-related use of illicit firearms. The Firearms Registry group forums are also identifying problems and working with the registry on possible amendments. “As I pointed out at the recent SSAA NSW AGM, the team at the NSW Firearms Registry is there to work with shooters to ensure the ongoing safety and viability of the sport,” he said.

Paul also confirmed that both SSAA NSW and SSAA National were preparing for the seeding of the SSAA Farmer Assist program in the state, which will see members connected with farmers to assist with pest animal control on their properties. The SSAA NSW and National Parks and Wildlife Service partnership, the Supplementary Pest Control trial program, is also working well, with excellent numbers of target species reported to have been removed and member participation growing.

Australian Capital Territory

Although small geographically, the ACT is home to the impressive Majura Shooting Complex in Canberra, which hosted the Pacific Regional Shooting Championships last year. Attracting many local and NSW members to shoot at the range, SSAA ACT has a healthy events calendar and fantastic facilities to cater for its members.

While legislation in the ACT generally reflects NSW laws, SSAA ACT President Dave True said access to .45-calibre handguns for competitions - including the SSAA-affiliated International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) events - was still an issue for the territory, which the Australian Shooter has detailed in past editions. “We are also following the review of the NFA very closely to see what changes could impact us,” he said.

Victoria

Victorian Police Minister Wade Noonan’s reaction to the Adler lever-action catapulted firearm recategorisation into the national spotlight when he told rural newspaper The Weekly Times that the firearm is a “high-capacity rapid-fire weapon that can cause an enormous amount of damage in the wrong hands”. As the Labor Government announced it is considering “tough gun control laws”, Victorian Police Association figures reportedly showed that illegal guns are being found every two days in Melbourne’s north-west, and drive-by shootings are increasing.

For the state’s licensed firearm owners, SSAA Victoria CEO Jack Wegman said arbitrary changes to firearm licence categories is a worrying development and he has spoken out against the government’s apparent knee-jerk reaction to the Adler. “It should be remembered that the police issues firearm licences to persons considered to be fit and proper, and classification of firearms should reflect this fact,” he said. “Licensed users with registered firearms should not be unfairly penalised, and if the concern is that these shotguns will fall into the hands of criminals, then the issue becomes a different one to how the responsible licensed shooter will use them.”

SSAA Victoria is also a member of the Combined Firearms Council of Victoria (CFCV), which will be discussing this issue and may present an evidence-based recommendation to the government. Jack also said that SSAA Victoria is awaiting any proposed changes to the NFA and what effect this may have on the current firearms legislation.

Queensland

In a state that boasts the highest number of SSAA members, Queensland recently experienced unprecedented politics when the former Liberal National Government - which convincingly won the 2012 election with 78 seats against only seven for Labor - lost the 2015 election with massive swings against Campbell Newman and his conservative government. The new minority Labor Government does not appear to be interested in re-establishing the Ministerial Firearms Advisory Panel that existed before the election; however, SSAA Queensland will be seeking opportunities for dialogue with the new leadership to continue a positive working relationship.

SSAA Queensland President Michael Pommer said although there are no pressing issues affecting the state’s licensed firearm owners, the review of the NFA is something the state branch is watching very closely. “While we generally have no major issues with our legislation and regulations, we are waiting to see the recommendations from the NFA review and how any changes could affect our members,” he said. “The debate around the Adler lever-action shotgun is another issue which SSAA Queensland is currently monitoring and lobbying to ensure that it remains in Category A.”

Queensland was the first state to launch the SSAA Farmer Assist program, which attracted major positive news coverage on ABC’s Landline program, along with support from the state’s peak farmers group, AgForce. “Farmer Assist has definitely given our members the opportunity to connect with our many landowners who need help with pest animal control, and we’ve been pleased to see the program continue to grow,” said Michael.

SSAA Queensland also hosts the Stewartdale Nature Refuge after dedicating almost 1000 hectares of the SSAA rifle range at Ipswich to koala conservation. This was part of an initiative between the former Newman government and the SSAA to save diminishing habitat for the native animal.

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory is home to two SSAA clubs located in Darwin and Alice Springs. The SSAA NT Branch also runs Conservation and Pest Management programs, with some hunting allowed on crown land.

South Australia

The forum’s host state of South Australia is currently in the midst of a review into the Firearms Act 1977, championed by Police Minister Tony Piccolo. The Bill is due to be tabled in Parliament soon, with Minister Piccolo canvassing some proposed changes in July. “The Bill aims to simplify and modernise the legislative scheme to improve public safety, prevent firearm crime, reduce red tape, make it easier for lawful firearm owners to comply with the law and overcome legislative deficiencies,” said Minister Piccolo. “Responsible gun owners have nothing to fear from this proposed Bill; it will make it easier for them to comply with the law if they do the right thing.”

SSAA SA President David Handyside has been totally involved in the roundtable discussions conducted by the minister and has had the opportunity to express his views for expanding the number of items brought up at the sessions. “The South Australian legislative review has been positive, as we have been consulted every step of the way. We look forward to our views being expressed in the draft Bill, which is expected shortly,” said David. “While there are still some areas to be discussed, it appears the biggest changes for licensed firearm owners will be in regards to storage and security requirements.”

The SA Labor Government, now in its 13th year, is also targeting illegal firearms trafficking, with a Bill currently before the Parliament looking at strict penalties for a person who sells an illegal firearm which is subsequently used to commit a crime. This approach is the result of Adelaide teenager Lewis McPherson being shot dead on New Year’s Eve in 2012, where the teen charged and convicted with the crime obtained the unregistered firearm illegally from another man.

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