Gun Control Australia in bed with the Greens

Gun enthusiasts accumulate a number of different firearms based on their choice of clothing and reason for leaving the house and would pick a different gun for going to the beach versus going to a formal event. Really? This rubbish is one of a number of reasons explaining why people accumulate guns cited in a discussion paper commissioned by Gun Control Australia and published by The Australia Institute (TAI), a Canberra-based left-leaning think-tank which boasts that its excellent research drives the public debate and secures policy outcomes.

“Socially just, environmentally responsible and economically viable solutions are possible, but only if insightful questions are combined with excellent research,” it says on its website. But there’s more. As well as to make a fashion statement, it says people accumulate guns because they want one in each room in event of a home invasion, are stocking up before anticipated bans or restrictions or are preparing for the breakdown of civilisation.

All this appears near the end of a paper entitled Hunters and Collectors - Gun use and ownership in Australia but really relates to the US, though that’s not clear without looking at the footnotes. These gems were actually lifted from a September 2016 Guardian newspaper report of an unpublished academic survey of US gun ownership conducted in 2015. The Guardian report noted a substantial proportion of America’s guns are in the hands of just three per cent of adults who it termed ‘super owners’ with an average of 17 firearms each.

Unlike GCA, the authors of the US study made no claims as to whether owning a large number of guns poses a greater risk factor than owning a few guns. They said they just didn’t know as there had been no research on the topic.

As to why Americans own guns, Guardian reporters talked to some gun owners, one of whom told them: “Walking around the beach with shirt off and shorts . . . I’m probably going to use a different gun than putting on a sport coat and going out to dinner.”

This particular respondent would appear to be an outlier even in the broad church of US gun owners. The Guardian said he headed a gun rights group which saw itself as further to the political right than the National Rifle Association. So what relevance could his views have to Australia’s very different gun culture - you’d think not much at all but this is GCA-commissioned research.

The Guardian report and TAI paper do cite some reasons for owning firearms which seem more in tune with the Australian situation. Gun owners have multiple guns because they’re serious hunters, participate in sport shooting, collect historic guns or have inherited several guns.

This was one of two discussion papers, both commissioned by GCA and written by researcher Bill Browne, who also penned a separate opinion piece following the revelation that One Nation representatives had been in the US  encouraged by a fake lobbyist employed by an overseas government-owned media outlet to meet with the NRA. All appeared in late March and can be found in the research section of the Australian Institute website.

Hunters and Collectors attracted some media attention, detailing the rising number of guns in Australia following the 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA). It recommends states and territories consider a cap of two guns per licensee. This paper drew much of its data from the website gunpolicy.org run by anti-gun advocate Philip Alpers and would appear to involve some degree of omniscience. Since most guns in Australia weren’t registered pre-NFA, the claim of more than three million privately owned guns in Australia in 1996 would appear to be at best a guess.

The second discussion paper is entitled Point Blank - Political Strategies of Australia’s Gun Lobby and acknowledges contributions from members of the left-leaning activist group GetUp. This paper claims the public desire for stronger gun control is being circumvented by pressure from the gun lobby and recommends political parties should refuse gun lobby donations.

Alas for this argument there’s scant evidence Australia is back-sliding on the 1996 National Firearms Agreement or that any pro-gun MP or MPs, even if holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, could demand the NFA be dismantled as their price for supporting the government.

Curiously, TAI sees the “large, well-resourced and tightly knit” gun lobby not so much as the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia with its near 200,000 fee-paying and voting members but more the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia (SIFA), the peak organisation representing firearms importers and distributors.

SIFA certainly provided substantial funding to support campaigns by minor parties in the 2017 Queensland and 2018 Victorian elections but announced in September 2018 it was ending political donations and wasn’t contributing to anyone for the 2019 federal election campaign.

“SIFA has never advocated for the watering down of firearms laws. We are committed to working within the existing regulatory environment and believe that environment should include the voices of firearms experts, because community safety depends upon it,” said the SIFA spokeswoman.

TAI doesn’t seem to have realised that. It says SIFA spending closely followed the pattern established by the US NRA and on a population basis SIFA contributions were roughly equivalent to or higher than the NRA. Their maths is found to be wanting. The biggest beneficiary of gun lobby largesse appears to have been North Queensland MP Bob Katter who, according to TAI figures, received more than $800,000 between 2011 and 2019, the biggest donor being firearms importer and distributer Nioa. Would all this cash have swayed him to vote any differently to how he would otherwise? Hardly. Mr Katter has always been openly pro-gun and Nioa is a large Queensland business run by his son-in-law.

TAI also has a problem with the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting Group and says their occasional shooting events have been sponsored by the gun lobby and recommends its member names be disclosed. On that basis, surely the same should apply to the rival Parliamentary Friends of Gun Control, established by ACT Labor MP Andrew Leigh. And what would be the reaction if some lobby group called for the publication of names of members of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship or those MPs of Muslim or Catholic religion?

TAI identifies what it says are four main strategies of the gun lobby - encouraging election of pro-gun crossbenchers, ratcheting pressure to push the boundaries of gun control, direct donations to favourable parties and MPs and lobbying sympathetic politicians.

But for a democratic country, that doesn’t seem too sinister or even all that exceptional, considering gun ownership is legal, albeit heavily regulated. Substitute climate action for guns and this applies just as equally to well-financed environment and activist groups.

But this is GCA-commissioned research which reflects the GCA anti-gun agenda and of which TAI takes full ownership. “New research from The Australia Institute finds there are more guns in Australia now than there were before the Port Arthur massacre and introduction of strict gun controls,” it says in its media statement accompanying the Hunters and Collectors paper. “The Australia Institute identifies $1.7 million donated to Australian political parties from the gun lobby since 2011, just from publicly disclosed donations,” it says in the media statement accompanying the Point Blank discussion paper.

So what is The Australia Institute and how does it come to express views on firearms which would appear to align with those of the explicitly anti-guns Greens? Firstly, for those unfamiliar with think-tanks, there are quite a number of them, some independent and some aligned to one side of politics or another. For example, the Institute of Public Affairs and Menzies Research Centre are linked to the Liberal Party while the Evatt Foundation and Chifley Research Centre are both Labor.

TAI says it’s independent and independently funded by donations from philanthropic trusts and individuals, has no political or commercial ties and won’t accept donations or commissioned work from political parties. It will accept grants and commissioned research from business, unions and NGOs. Its affinity to the Greens is indisputable.

Current executive director Ben Oquist was a long-time Greens staff member, working for Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne. TAI deputy director Ebony Bennett was media adviser to Senator Brown and also national campaign director for the Greens’ 2010 federal election campaign.

Former executive director Richard Denniss, now TAI’s chief economist,  was senior strategic advisor to Bob Brown and board deputy chair Professor Barbara Pocock was a Greens candidate in South Australia in the recent federal.

Former board member Lin Hatfield Dodds was a Greens candidate for the Senate in the ACT and discussion paper author Bill Browne served as fundraising coordinator for the ACT Greens in 2013-14. But when it comes to political affiliation of current and former TAI staff and board,  Greens don’t completely dominate as former board members Sharan Burrow and Ged Kearney both once headed the ACTU. Ms Kearney is now a federal Labor MP.

As a ‘progressive’ think-tank TAI has done plenty of work on climate change and economic and social justice issues and its venture into gun policy is quite recent. For GCA the benefit seems to be that its commissioned research might gain a little more credibility and media attention when published under The Australia Institute banner than it would otherwise.

One truth to come out of the attempts by TAI to tarnish the reputation of law-abiding firearms owners is now crystal clear: TAI is made up of Green-leaning staffers and contributors, the Greens support Gun Control Australia and, surprise surprise, they in turn support the Greens. Both its President Samantha Lee and Vice-President Roland Browne have held numerous joint press launches with the Greens and Browne is even President of the Bob Brown Foundation. The truth is Gun Control Australia has been outed as merely a mouthpiece for the radical Greens.

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